Thursday, August 21, 2008

Planet Bollywood

After leaving Nepal, Bombay (currently known as Mumbai) was a huge difference.
Upon entering you get the feeling you are in a big city, purely by the differences between the two airports. Bombay looks like our standard western airports: clean, air-conditioned and well organized...and no power-cuts. Did I mention the power went out in the airport in Kathmandu? If you wanted to scare me before a flight in a third world country, there was no better way to do it.
I spent the first few days with my paternal grandparents and was spoiled with all my favourite Indian dishes by my grandmother, God bless her. I'm sure she was slightly disappointed with my appetite however as going from eating two meals a day to eating three huge and delicious meals a day is a lot for my stomach to handle.
I then made my way to my godmother's house where my aunt from Montreal and maternal grandmother were visiting. We made a short trip to Goa, where my family is from and it was amazing. Goa is so different from Bombay. Everything is laid back and has that beach mentality. Speaking of which the beach was great. The monsoons are not a great time to arrive as the water is very rough and quite dangerous so no swimming, but the beach still maintains that paradise feel to it. Little shacks and shops dot the coastline along the beach and one can only imagine how relaxing it must be during the high season. After thoroughly pigging out on delicious Goan dishes including a wide variety of seafood, we headed back to Bombay for me to shop till I dropped. The prices here are just too good not to.
The coolest experience for me has been by far the surgery I viewed. My uncle, a surgical oncologist, took me into the operating theater to watch him perform a lumpectomy (surgical removal of a lump) from a breast. I passed his "no-faint" test by viewing pictures of surgeries without passing out so he let me stand right beside him as I watched him operate. I even dawned the surgical scrubs, mask and hair-net which completed the look. Impressed with my ability to handle the "gore" I'm going to see a throat surgery which promises much more blood...we'll see how I handle that.
I'm heading to Goa again this weekend...I just can't get enough.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Nepal Surival Guide

As the end of my trip approaches, I decided to put up few helpful tips as well as observations I have made starting with my arrival in Nepal to now. Hopefully anyone coming here in the future can learn from this.
1. Don't tip anyone at the airport and definitely don't show them you have US dollars in your'll be taken advantage of.
2. When buying cotton candy at the Swyanmbunath monkey temple, make sure to keep it OUT OF REACH of monkeys; they WILL take it, violently if need be.
3. If you leave a bar at 11pm in Thamel, make sure you know where you are going, street lights don't exist and Nepalis give awful directions
4. Always drink filtered water...enough said.
5. Never eat street fruit unless you want to have the same issues as you would have should you try unfiltered water.
6. In the village, there is no toilet paper, let alone a western toilet...learn how to use your hands, and make sure to use the left for wiping, the right for may be stared at otherwise.
7. The chiya pasal (tea shop) in a village basically means community center.
8. If you are shopping, make sure to mention you are from India but studying abroad, instant discount.
9. When hanging out of a microbus with nothing but your hand holding a thin metal rod, make sure to tuck your body in when a bus/car/truck/bike passes in the opposite direction.
10. In addition t0 #9, make sure you have rainwear, a Nepali rainstorm hits hard and fast.
11. If you plan on staying in Thamel, make a budget...then double it, you will definitely spend that much.
12. Don't pet street dogs...
13. Don't pet street cats...
14. Don't look monkeys in the eye
15. If you go to a Pashupatinath and see a cremation (and you will), try to avoid breathing till you are well away from the funeral pyre.
16. If a Nepali quotes you a time, multiply it by 4, I developed this surprisingly accurate formula and tested it...
17. Should you decide to sit on top of the bus, make sure you hold on tightly...very tightly.
18. Make sure you have rainwear handy for #17
19. If you are stuck in a petrol que, don't try and estimate how long it will take you to get out...just start walking, it's more than likely faster!
20. Only use an ATM during bank hours and have a backup should your card get eat or the power goes out
21. If you feel a rumble in the building, its probably an earthquake, don't sit in the building debating whether it was a pre-shock or the real thing.
22. Learn what day your village participates in power load sharing
23. If you decide to shower during a load sharing day, make sure you have an alternate source of light available in the shower, you can't wash what you can't see.
24. Buy hand sanitizer and take it EVERYWHERE
25. Don't bother looking for a garbage bin, you won't find one. Instead look for a trash pile.
26. Don't walk towards/through a banda (strike)
27. Should you decide to ignore #26, go with Nepalis or make sure to stress you are North American...I'm glad I did
28. A nikon camera strapped to your neck means instant 300% markup
29. Every Nepali child knows the capital city of the country (and in some cases, the state) you live in...they are also very good at then proceeding to ask for money for their demonstration of intelligence
30. Every Nepali seems to know a relative/friend in the city you live in...they also seem to think you are kindred spirits as a result and will expect you to buy from them.

I hope you feel prepared enough for, back to India!

Friday, August 1, 2008

I had a shower...with an elephant

A group of six volunteers decided that a great way to end placement would be to go to Chitwan National Park and take in some natural beauty.

A 5am wakeup call saw us on our way to the tourist bus park to begin our 6 hour bus ride to Chitwan. The ride was an adventure in itself with the bus coming very close to the edge of some cliffs on MANY occasions. Those of you who think the Sea to Sky highway is dangerous, you're all a bunch of babies compared to what I went through! The occasional turned over bus on the side of the road only added to our anxiety, but we got there in one piece.

The first day we met our guide and went on a small walk through the jungle to the river to watch the sunset, it was gorgeous and we got our first view of a Marsh Mugger crocodile. The resort was lovely and we had the whole thing to ourselves since it was the off season.

The next morning was a treat. At 10 am to large elephants came strolling into our resort and we hopped aboard. No saddle, just bareback on a 2 ton pacaderm. The hairs on an elephant are like mini needles poking you, so after the initial excitement of being on an elephant wore off, it was a little uncomfortable. The elephants slowly walked towards the river, yes the same on the crocs are in...and then proceeded into the water. We had no idea. Next thing I knew, the elephant was shaking and I went flying into the river. It was incredible! After being thrown off more than once, I went to the elephants trunk and stood on it, at which point Punam Kali, a 31 year old elephant, lifted me up onto his head, only to shake and throw me back into the water.

1 hour later we dried off in the resort and prepared for our next elephant adventure, a walk through the jungle. We saw a rhino and some deer but unfortunately no tigers. Not surprising since our guide who has 25 years of experience has only seen a tiger 20 times in his life. We also did a dugout canoe ride down the river and saw some crocs and another rhino...however he wasn't happy to see us since he swam directly towards our canoe...quickly. Paddling like crazy our guide managed to fight the current and take us to a point that was acceptable to the rhino because he turned around and went on land.

Overall Chitwan has been the best experience so far here in Nepal and I would highly suggest if you ever get the chance to come here, bathe with elephants!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Photos.....the bain of my existence

It seems every attempt I make to upload photos somehow gets messed up. As you can tell if you visit the link that has always been on this page, there is a small album of photos of the children. Unfortunately Internet Explorer crashed when 50% of the photos were uploaded (another reason you should ALL switch to Firefox) so the upload ended prematurely.
This is a public link to the same album on facebook which I managed to successfully upload. In the future if my online sight fails to upload, I will provide a link that directs to you facebook (which hopefully was successful). If any of you can't see the link, please let me know.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mount Everest

"I may not have climbed mount Everest, but I touched it with my heart."

I was originally reluctant to pay the $150 fee for a one hour flight to Mount Everest by charter company Bhudda Air, afterall, $150 USD is a small fortune in Nepal, many people won't see that much in a year. However curiosity finally kicked in and I paid, even managing to haggle down to $140 in typical Nepali fashion.
Arriving at the airport at 5am (6:30am flight) with a group of seven volunteers who had decided to go I was dumbfounded when I realized the airport was not even open yet. The guide had told us to get there at 5:30 but we decided to get there early to get good seats; true to Nepal, everyone showed up at 5:30 to actually open the airport...or what is considered and airport.
After paying our departure tax and all trying to get seats near the front of the plane and avoid the wing, we waited at the gate. I was disappointed since I got a seat at the back of the plane, sure to be a disaster for getting some good pictures...I was soon corrected.
The plane was a small Beech twin propellar aircraft and it became apparent that the back of the plane was the best place to be. After a 15 minute ascent we reached above the clouds and within minutes began to see peaks. They were gorgeous and the hostess came around to vainly explain which each peak was. Finally commotion stirred in the whole plane, we were near Everest. One by one passengers of the seventeen-seater made their way to the cockpit for the best view. Finally it was my turn.
When I first got there I didn't know what I was looking at, but soon it became clear. Sitting there, higher than them all with a little "cloud halo" was Everest; it was beautiful. But the other peaks were just as amazing, all looking like giant ice bergs rising up out of an icy ocean.
Definitely worth the $150!!!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Nepali Life

Leopards, heavy rain, leeches, a total lack of toilet paper...welcome to Nepal.

Bistachaap was the beginning of my Nepali adventure. After spending two days in Thamel (the tourist district) and meeting all the other volunteers, we shipped out for this quaint city which is within a valley of the Kathmandu Valley. I met my host family and immediately became very attached to the two children, and apparently the little girl (Unisa) became attached, even possessive of me. Any girl who came near me would get a stern "NO!" and a punch, usually in the head. She was only 5, so it was cute.

The family lived on a nice plot of land with their own mini barn, corn plants and a small rice paddy (like almost every Nepali family). Mornings began at 7 for me, although technically I was up at 5 because Nepali's usually wake up this early anyways. No toilet paper so I went traditional and exercised my left Language lessons and tours of the valley accompanied each day. On the 5th day we finished training and went back to Thamel to await placement. I took advantage of computers, showers, WESTERN toilets and more importantly a variety in meals. Nepalis only eat two meals a day, Dhal Bhaat...twice a day, every day for all eternity. Some Chiya (sweetened tea) adds variety for a snack.

I was placed in a small village about 30 minutes from Thamel. My new host family is great and loves hearing about Canada, although I will miss Unisa and the rest I left in Bistachaap. I have my own room, similar to mine in Vancouver and a western toilet!!! Awesome!

The daily routine starts at about 7am and I go to Charity, the name of the orphanage I work at. The children are not well off at all but they all have bright smiling faces. My favourite almost immediately is Bishnu Pun Magar, a mischievious little 7 year old with a laugh that makes you melt and a smile that lights up the room.

The day begins with giving all the children their required medications and vitamins...almost 40 children means it takes about 1.5 hours. The health cases range from phimoses for boys (look it up...its not fun) and scabies for everyone. I drench myself in purel after every case, Lord knows what these kids have; actually I do know, hence my prophylactic regimen. The kids then eat Dhal Bhaat...shocking...then off to "school". I use that term lightly because if you saw it, you'd never know. The evening is a follow-up check for most of the kids, usually evening medications and general checks. If a child has to go to the clinic, we take him during the day. I'm dreading an overnight hospital visit, but its certainly not unheard of in this place.

Thats all for now. I'll try and post some sort of picture soon, I promise. I'm doing an Everest flight on Sunday so I guarantee I'll post something from that.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Touring the city I was born in was a good experience. I started the day fairly early with a government organized city tour. The tour guide spoke English which was a welcome feature and the tour was small, only about seven people, which was nice because it allowed us to move at a decent speed without having to wait.
We started with all the major monuments in Kolkata. Unfortunately it was predominantly a bus tour and most of the places we visited can either not be reached by the public, or there is no stopping. The governor's house was absolutely huge and almost all the buildings that we saw had a very colonial British look. I was later informed by Dad's friend Rajiv that this is because Kolkata was once the capital of India before Independence in 1947 when it moved to the present city of Delhi. I had to end the tour early because I was feeling a bit ill but I felt better later that evening.
That evening I went out to a club in Kolkata with Rajiv's son Karan and it was a fun and new experience. Clubs here are very similar to those in Canada and it was a lot of fun.
The next day I woke up later than usual and went to visit Mother Theresa's Mission of Charity. It was amazing. It was much smaller than I expected, with a small courtyard leading to Mother's tomb and a small room that outlines her history among a variety of poster boards. I got so caught up with reading about her accomplishments and her letters that I lost track of time and the opportunity to see her bedroom passed. I knew she was an amazing woman, but truly when you read about all that she accomplished with what she had, it really makes her seem like a saint.
Later in the afternoon I had a lovely lunch at the CCFC (Calcutta Cricket and Football Club) with Rajiv and his family followed by a very special drive down memory lane. Rajiv took me to the apartment I used to live in, the bank building (HSBC) that dad used to work at, and most importantly Woodlands Hospital, which, on May 18, 1986 was the hospital where the world became a better place. Rajiv also took me to buy a pair of Kurta Pyjama's, a comfortable cotton outfit which is very comfortable for lounging but I bought a pair that can also be dressed up and worn with jeans.
Kolkata was definitely a great experience. It was nice being able to see where I was born and spent the first year of my life but was also nice to see India from the pre-independence capital.
Tomorrow I leave for Nepal so I can't guarantee when the next posting will be, so bare with me.