Category Archives: Kathmandu

Coming down from the clouds

Wednesday morning arrived midst the sound of wailing coming from the street below. I went out onto the balcony off our kitchen and noticed a number of our neighbours also gathering on their balconies to check out the commotion below. Down in the street was a distraught woman being comforted by the people gathering round her. Kyle went up onto the roof to get a better view and try to figure out what was happening. He came back to tell us that he thought the woman had been sideswiped by a motorcycle as she was walking down the street. Her dozen eggs were smashed and her leg and arm had been injured (although she was still walking and swinging her arms wildly about and there was no evidence of blood). The motorcycle was nowhere to be seen. As the audience gathered the wailing got louder. People on the balconies were starting to grin and then began moving back indoors. I never did see police or ambulance. Eventually the noise died down and the crowd and victim dispersed.

I took my bowl of cereal up onto the rooftop for one last breakfast “in the clouds”. Now that the wailing woman had gone, the street was back to its usual morning sights and sounds. The clouds had descended onto the surrounding hills. I could smell the burning incense from the house next door and heard the tinkling bell calling the virtuous forces to enter their house. I could hear dogs barking from yard to yard and somewhere a rooster was still crowing. The woman across the street was opening up her shop and laying out her fruits.
The fellow who rides around on his bicycle calling out a nasal chant for recyclable plastic bottles went down the street. I will miss it all.

The plane wasn’t to leave until 7 pm leaving lots of time for some last-minute shopping. Bernie had been living with Courtney and Jenn, two other CECI volunteers who had come to Nepal last November. I hadn’t met them yet because they had been in Bangkok seeing doctors since both had been ill. Now they were back and Jenn had offered to take Bernie and I to get some jewelry. Anne and Courtney joined us and we headed for Thamel on foot. I’m finally starting to be able to find my way around Thamel – now that we are leaving. Jenn took us up a staircase to a second story shop that I would never have found on my own, where Bernie and I were able to get some lovely items for our families.

Lunch was at the Garden of Dreams which is a restored palatial gardens modeled on the European garden style with pavilions and balustrades. It is a quiet haven away from the honking and crowds of the Thamel streets.
Garden of Dreams in Thamel
While we were eating, the heavens opened up and the rain swept in. The waiters were running around balancing the plates and an umbrella trying to avoid getting wet. It had only slightly let up when we left the Garden to pile into taxis to take us back so that we could finish our packing.

Kyle and Carly had already been whisked off to the airport since their flight was three hours earlier than ours. I wrote a couple of thank-you notes, delivered some gifts to the watchman at the CECI gate and tidied up my room. Way too soon the CECI vehicle showed up with Bernie to take us to the airport. I was excited to head for home but it was hard to leave this wonderful adventure. The drive to the airport was a bit quieter than usual since the day was a holiday. Bernie had his camera out as usual, snapping the scenery as we drove. The whole time we had been in Kathmandu he had been saying that he wanted to catch a shot of a family of four riding a motorcycle and up to now it hadn’t happened. Suddenly a family appeared beside our vehicle and before they could ride off he got a couple of great shots.

At the airport we said our goodbyes to our driver and lugged our bags through the security and into the terminal. We were frisked a couple of times and our bags went through the camera checks at least twice. Bernie ended up having to dash a security fellow who took an enormous interest in his wallet of Canadian money. As on our flight from Bahrain to Katmandu, the Gulf Air flight carried a large contingent of migrant workers. They were heading to Saudi and the UAE. It was the first time I have ever been on a flight that actually left earlier than scheduled.

In Bahrain we met up with Carly and Kyle for a four hour stop-over. They had already been waiting for three hours. Bernie gave Kyle and I a lesson on Adobe Photoshop while we sipped lattes and mochas in a coffee shop. It was almost 1 am when we caught our Gulf Air flight to Heathrow. We weren’t on the same flight out of Heathrow, so Bernie and I said our goodbyes to Carly and Kyle and went off to catch our next flight. I think this is the first time I have actually seen Greenland as we flew over. Even icebergs were visible in the surrounding ocean. We arrived back in Canada after a relatively uneventful eight hour flight. Since I don’t seem to be able to sleep on airplanes, I was totally exhausted. Luckily customs and bag retrieval went smoothly and before we knew it Bernie and I were saying our goodbyes.

Nepal was an incredible experience. I hope to be able to go back to see some of the things that the monsoon hid from me. It will have to be in the spring or fall next time, but there will definitely be a next time.

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Filed under Kathmandu, Personal Info, Sue On Leave

Farewell parties

Tomorrow we leave this lovely country behind. Today our new friends threw us parties to thank us for our friendship and whatever we were able to do for them. I spent the morning making sure the laptop and backup drives were ready to hand over to CMF. Then I headed to Thamel looking for the National Bookstore. A Nepali friend, Raja, back in Canada had asked that I pick up a book from there. As it turned out, the National Bookstore was not in Thamel but was near Asan a short distance to the south. I ended up taking a rickshaw and had a great chat with the driver all the way there.
Rickshaw driver in Thamel
He had been driving rickshaw for eighteen years and really loved the work.

The bookstore didn’t have the book though they had others by the same author. So I headed back to CECI where I totally enjoyed lazing about for a change.

Kyle came back from his farewell party laden down with gifts. He had been working with his organization for three months and had made quite an impression. Carly was still at her farewell party and Bernie’s party was this evening as was mine.

Around 5:30 I headed for CMF dressed in my new kurta and salwar. Ruchi was still working so I caught a picture of her with our new system.
Ruchi working with KnowledgeTree
When she was done we headed for the rooftop where people were beginning to gather. I had a lovely chat with a gentleman who was the former head of the Bank of Nepal. He seems to be totally committed to the micro-finance model and spoke quite eloquently of the benefits. Plates laden with chicken, fish, chips, and marinated peanuts were handed around along with glasses of wine or whiskey. The sun set over the distant hills as we ate and chatted. It was quite lovely. Ruchi and Tejhari gave touching speeches thanking me. I thanked them for the wonderful (although short) time I had had with them. The party broke up soon afterward with lots of hugs and good wishes.

So now I am back at CECI spending a nice quiet evening. The others have gone out with their buddies for a last fling. I am going to curl up with my book and enjoy the quiet. (Well, if that guy doing all the yelling a couple of houses over will fall into a drunken stupor I should get some quiet.)

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Filed under Centre for Micro Finance, Kathmandu, Personal Info, Sue On Leave, Travel


The goal for this morning was to see whether Ruchi could re-install Knowledgetree and load in the latest backup with just the manual to guide her. She was totally prepared and dove into the task with a grin. An hour later we were patting each other on the back. She had loaded the system onto my little netbook and restored it to the same state as the main system on the HP laptop. I have every confidence that she will be able to carry on without me.

I left to get caught up on my blogging and email and prepare for a de-briefing session at CMF with Nikunja Nepal of CECI, Tejhari Ghimire, the CEO of CMF, Ruchi and myself. We gathered in Tejhari’s office to discuss the project and its outcomes. The biggest concern will be the mindset shift for the CMF staff to actually use the system. This is typical of any new computer system and will probably take some time. But hopefully they will come to see the advantages (with urging from Ruchi) and it will become a part of their daily routines. The whole experience has been extremely satisfying for both Ruchi and myself. We have learned a lot and truly enjoyed working together.

I headed back to CECI and met up with Bernie. We wanted to re-visit the Fair Trade shops in Patan to pick up a few more items. From there we began an inner-city trek taking us from the southern part, north cross the Bagmati River along the Ram Shah Path (actually a fairly large and busy road) to the Narayanhiti Palace Museum and then west towards Thamel. The trees of the Palace Museum are loaded with hundreds of birds who serenade you as you walk along the Palace wall.

Bernie had not been to Thamel which is the tourist mecca of Kathmandu. It is chock full of tourists and vendors trying to separate them from their money. We eventually found the Rum Doodle restaurant, went up onto the rooftop and ate another great meal. The Rum Doodle restaurant is a famous starting point for many of the mountain expeditions and the walls are covered with footprints labelled with the signatures of the climbers. I understand Sir Edmund Hilary and a number of famous Sherpas are there.

Satisfaction came in many forms today – the professional satisfaction of a good project, the personal satisfaction of trekking this city and crossing those crazy streets without getting hit, and the overall satisfaction of getting the internet back and regaining contact with family.


Filed under CECI/Uniterra, Centre for Micro Finance, Kathmandu, Personal Info, Sue On Leave, Travel

Nuns, monks and rain

Our internet disappeared early on Saturday and was gone for the rest of the weekend so I didn’t get a chance to update this blog. On the positive side, though, I had lots of time to work on the software maintenance manual that I will leave with Ruchi.

Saturday ended up mainly a Buddhist day. Bernie and I headed back to Boudah nath (the first site we had been taken to when we were introduced to Kathmandu). This time we were able to take it in at our own pace. I had seen someone’s picture of the Stoupa with the Boudah eyes peeking through the prayer flags so I took one of my own.Peeking Boudah
While circling the stoupa in the appropriate direction (clockwise) and spinning the prayer wheels as we went, a young man noticed the soles of Bernie’s boots “were talking” and he suggested an overhaul. After a bit of negotiating, Bernie relinquished his boots for a pair of crocks and we continued circling the stoupa, enjoying the atmosphere and snapping pictures.
Bernie's boot gets a facelift
This fellow did an amazing job on the boots – actually sewing them where the Canadian shoemaker had only glued.
To carry on with the buddhist theme, we headed for the eastern edge of town and climbed up into the outlying hills heading for some of the 27 monasteries that circle the city. The first we came to was the Kapan nunnery where we found a shady stoop to relax and eat our lunch. Young nuns would greet us as they passed. They dress like the monks and shave their heads as well so at first I thought they were monks.
From here we headed up the road towards the Kapan monastery. It is a popular place for westerners to stay and meditate when visiting Nepal. It is a beautiful building atop a knoll which can be reached in a roundabout way by road or a steep shortcut by foot. Guess which method we took?
Monastery on the Hill
By the time we hit the top of the hill we were drenched in sweat. Not the most dignified way to visit a very spiritual sanctuary. We explored the temple with its many wall paintings. The paintings depicting many different aspects of Buddah brought to mind the paintings of the different acts of St Francis in the church in Assisi, Italy.
There were at least two (probably three) more monasteries nearby so Bernie and I headed out to visit them all. The views of Kathmandu from the monasteries were spectacular. I’m not sure that my pictures can do it justice.
There were a couple of nuns and a friend sitting giggling together on the lawn of one of the monasteries.
Giggling nuns and friend
That night we sat at Buzz’s cafe listening to a very drunk but quite famous Nepalese musician, an Indian musician and a group of others singing and playing drums and guitar all evening. It was a great way to end the day.

Next morning I was up bright and early to work on the manual that I am producing for Ruchi to maintain the system we have so labouriously set up together. By early afternoon I had progressed well into the workings of the manual and thought I could give myself a break.

Joel (a French Canadian volunteer that was visiting from the Chitwan region) and I headed off to meet Kyle at an internet cafe in Thamel. We both lugged our Acer Aspires along so that we could get caught up on our email. Soon Carly joined us and then we headed out. Joel and Kyle wanted to buy gifts for their families and Carly was recruited (quite willingly) to take us around to her favourite Thamel vendors. And no shopping is quite complete without its requisite bargaining session so each visit to a shop can end up being quite prolonged. I went ahead to search out a shop I had seen the last time while Joel and Carly checked out a Thanku painting shop she liked. Before I had gone 100 meters the heavens opened up and I had to take shelter in a storefront.
It didn’t appear to be ending soon so eventually I bought myself an umbrella and ventured back to where Carly and Joel were enjoying a cup of tea with the Thanku painters. As the rain let up, we moved on to a few other shops and I have to admit I bought a few things I had not really intended to buy. I really shouldn’t go to Thamel.

Not long afterward we headed back to Baluwatar where I hunkered down to seriously tackle the manual. By midnight I had completed the 47 page tome.


Filed under Kathmandu, Personal Info, Sue On Leave, Travel

Down to the crunch

Today’s plan was to prove that my backups worked and we could do a full recovery from them. Originally I thought I would just wipe out what we had done so far and then reinstall using the backups but in the end I bowed to pressure (I encountered some questioning as to the level of risk) so I decided to do a full recovery to my little netbook instead.

I got to CMF early – loaded with two laptops, a backup drive, my notebooks and my camera. I had visions of portaging in Algonquin with the foodbarrel on my back. OK – so maybe I exaggerate a bit.

I spent the next hour proving that we could recover our system with a fresh install and our backups. It worked like a charm. Now I have to document the process thoroughly so Ruchi can replicate it. I’ve told her that I will have a manual for her by Monday and she will then have to do a full recovery on her own. She says she is up for it.

That’s when we ran into a little hitch. I asked her to connect to the system from her machine just to make sure that she had access to everything and that’s when we found that she couldn’t see the directories that we had set up. So I played around with some config settings and somehow corrupted the database. Again, the system recovery steps came into play and I was able to drop and recreate the database with our backup and we were back in business in no time. It seems that permissions hadn’t been properly set for the groups to access the directories and once that was fixed she was able to see the documents from her machine.

We decided we’d had enough of that for now so we went around to the various offices taking pictures of whoever was around and then headed for Trendy Cafe for lunch. We ate chicken momo C’s (I may have the order of that wrong) and they were delicious. They are basically dumplings with a spiced chicken filling and a tomato jelly-like sauce. They were wonderful and I would definitely have them again.

I went back to CECI for the rest of the afternoon and worked on filling out the end-of-assignment documents that CECI wants filled in. Basically they are used as an assessment of the overall project – based on the satisfaction of the participants and partners. I did try to work on the manual for Ruchi but I used the form-filling as a procrastination method, I’m afraid.

Raja (from Guelph) had sent a parcel with me to deliver to his brother in Hetaura and because I am finding myself running out of time, I had called his brother to arrange an alternate method of getting the parcel to him. Today his brother-in-law who works at the Nepali Broadcasting Station arrived to pick up the parcel. He seemed very nice and happily took the parcels from me to take to Ram (Raja’s brother).

Next on the agenda was another shopping spree with Bernie and Anne. Anne took us to a number of Fair Trade stores that CECI deals with and Bernie and I picked up a few items to take home.

Supper tonight was at Bernie’s – an amazing lasagna cooked by his Dede (literally ‘Big Sister’) who cleans his house once a week and cooks him a delicious meal. Bernie had picked up a bottle of wine on the way back and we dined quite well.

Must get that manual finished this weekend but I would like to work in one more site-seeing trip to something nearby.


Filed under Centre for Micro Finance, Kathmandu, Sue On Leave

Life is good

A day of celebration and success. I headed off to CMF in one of my new kurtas with its matching scarf. I strutted down the road, stepping carefully over the squashed rat outside our gate, avoiding the puddles and keeping an eye out for taxis and motorcycles sweeping round the bend. At CMF Ruchi noticed my outfit, gave out the requisite compliments and we settled in for another productive day. She concentrated on gathering more documents and I worked on a DOS backup batch that she can run at the end of each day.
I haven’t written a batch in DOS for many years so it was tough. But with trial and error and much googling, I finally put something together that was consistently backing the data into nicely timestamped directories on the backup drive.

CECI had invited all the volunteers to a luncheon on the rooftop of CECI Place to celebrate the work of those of us who are leaving next week. Paul has been here for 9 months and Carly and Kyle for three while Bernie and I have only been here a week and a half. Not sure that we deserved the attention, but we got it anyway. Carly and Kyle entertained us with a pseudo rap session, Nepali style. Lunch was another great Nepali meal and afterward Bernie, Anne and I made our way down to Buzz Cafe for a cup of coffee. Buzz is an outdoor cafe/bar with a decidedly western lean – reminiscent of those beach bars you find in the Caribbean. It is certainly a popular spot although today in the early afternoon, we were the only patrons.

Fortified by caffeine, I headed back to CECI Place to continue working on my backup batch. I was struggling with trying to delete the oldest backup directory automatically. In unix it would be easy enough, but not so in DOS. Or at least, not for me. I finally decided to reach out across the continents and sent a plea to some of the gurus I know in Guelph. In no time at all I had an answer that worked like a charm. Life IS good! Is it good enough for me to risk wiping out the Knowledgetree system Ruchi and I have set up and seeing if I can restore from my backups?

Tonight Van showed up with an armload of pizzas and desserts and Carly, Kyle, Van, Bernie and I headed for the cool breeze on the roof to devour our goodies. The pizzas were delicious. My favourite was the pesto pizza. We checked out Kyle’s wonderful pictures as the sun set and the night moved in. He has a really good eye for composition and his shots of Pokara, the lake it borders and the surrounding Himalayas were breathtaking.

As the day ends I hear soothing music and the murmur of Kyle, Van and Carly’s voices in the other room.

Life is good.

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Filed under CECI/Uniterra, Centre for Micro Finance, Kathmandu, Sue On Leave

Breakthroughs and shopping sprees

Eureka! I think I solved the indexing problem – with a little help from my friends, of course. Last night Bernie suggested I look for the php.ini configuration file and see what the install had configured. By then I had decided that the biggest difference between my installation in Guelph and the one here was timezones. How that might affect the indexer I’m not sure, but something I had seen in a log file somewhere made me think along those lines. So this morning I dug around until I found the php.ini file and sure enough there was a setting for timezones. It was using the default (although I couldn’t tell what the default was). I searched the web until I found the php timezone setting for Kathmandu, reset the php.ini file and rebooted the machine. I loaded a test file and it indexed properly. So I then loaded the 356 files that Ruchi and I had organized into a logical file system yesterday and the indexer immediately began to chug. Now, it isn’t perfect. There are some Powerpoint presentations that didn’t index properly, but only 18 files didn’t index and I’m sure we will be able to resolve that problem too. So on that note I ducked out of the CMF office in the early afternoon and headed back to CECI.

Carly was waiting and Van (a student from Edinburgh University) joined us. We met Lindsay (another student but this time from New York) and grabbed a taxi to New Road to pick up my new clothes and do a bit of shopping. There must have been a demonstration or some sort of action happening because the traffic was incredible and I did see a large crowd around the bus park.

Midst constant honking and stifling exhaust fumes our taxi dodged and darted fighting motorcycles, bicycles and other taxis for any tiny opening to squeeze into. I don’t know how we avoided hitting anybody but eventually we made it to New Road. Carly led us through the street bustle to the tiny shop of my seamstress where I modelled my beautiful new outfits for the gang. She did lovely work. The seams were all serged and finished properly. I can hardly wait to wear one of the outfits tomorrow.

Carly then led us to a little sweetshop off Freak street where a Bob Marley poster hung on the wall and beautiful cakes were displayed in the window. Freak Street is famous from the celebrity visitations of the sixties and early seventies. George Harrison was a frequenter of Freak Street. We indulged our chocolate addictions and washed it down with delicious cappuccinos. I really have to go back there.

From here we piled into a taxi and headed for the tourist district of Kathmandu – Thamel. Carly, Van and I jumped out while Lindsay headed off on another errand. There are a zillion shops in Thamel and they do cater to the tourists, but there are a lot of really lovely things to buy. I drooled over beautiful hand-embroidered jackets, exquisite Thanku paintings and Pashminas galore. I spent every last rupee I had on me and then resorted to VISA. I really have to get a grip. But, I did bargain for most of it. I think some of my purchases were a good deal but then some probably weren’t. It was fun so it was worth it.

Before I hit the sack I have to get some documentation done for the project.

Another great day in Kathmandu.


Filed under Centre for Micro Finance, Kathmandu, Sue On Leave

Tour Day

After sleeping most of yesterday, I went to bed fully expecting to be wide-eyed all night. In fact I slept through, got up around 5:30 with the sun and the sound of Kathmandu awakening. After a shower and some breakfast I organized my gear then fell asleep until 9:30 when I was supposed to meet up with Bernie and our tour guide. I can’t believe how much I’m sleeping.

Our guide – Kshitiz Khadga – took us straight to Bouda Nath – the main Buddhist temple in Nepal. The eyes on top of the dome indicate equality while the nose indicates unity. It is a huge temple circled by many tourist shops selling all kinds of ornate metal statues, jewellery and wooden carvings. We weren’t allowed into this temple but went into a smaller one nearby where the eyes of the Buddha followed us as we walked around the room. Paintings on the walls were done by the monks trained to do these specialized works. Seven bowls of water with a flower balanced delicately on the edge of each surrounded both sides of a picture of the former monk who looked after the temple. Four pictures of lamas (including the Dalai Lama) hung on the wall on both sides of the buddha.

From here we travelled southward to Pashupati Nath through which the Bagmati River flows. This is a beautiful spot where the bodies are cremated on byres that line a section of the river. There were a number of funerals going on while we watched from the other side of the river. Male sons of the deceased were having their heads shaved. In only the Newari group of people are the women allowed to attend the funeral.
On our side of the river were a number of shrines to Shiva – the Hindu god of destruction. Hermits dressed in bright yellows and red live in and maintain the shrines, sharing the space with a number of scavenging monkeys.

Next we headed for Durbar Square in Patan. This is where one of the sons of the Ghurka king built his palace in the 17th century. The site has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO and is undergoing renovations to keep it from deteriorating. We ate lunch in a rooftop restaurant called Thaluja. The meal of curried vegetables was very good. After eating we toured the palace grounds and the square. This is the centre of the Newari people who are famous for their pagoda-style architecture. According to Kshitiz there are three main types of architecture to be found here – the pagoda, the dome (influenced by the moslems) and the turret style of India. He had pointed out all three at Pashupati.
Durbar Square in Patan
It had been a pretty solid day of site-seeing so Bernie and I were ready to head back to our respective homes for a nap.

Later that evening I ended up at a wonderful sushi restaurant with seven young people – mainly students working for NGO’s.

Carly and I bowed out of a trip to a local bar to come home and finish up for the day. It is raining again (I guess that happens most nights at this time of year) and the electricity is out so I had best hit the sack before this laptop dies.

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Filed under Kathmandu, Sue On Leave

Here at last

The flight from Bahrain to Katmandu was quite full – 80-90% made up of young male Nepalese who work in Saudi, Bahrain and the UAE. They can make a lot more money there than at home in Nepal. The flight was a bit cramped (my knees are beginning to suffer) but the food was great – curried chicken, rice and spicy potatoes. Probbably the best meal on all of the flights.

We arrived in Kathmandu in the early morning. I caught a glimpse of the Himalayas as we descended through the clouds – towering heights that I later found were only the foothills.

We were processed through the airport quite smoothly although there were certainly a lot of papers to fill out and lineups to maneuver. It all went smoothly though and we soon met up with the Uniterra representatives and driven through a myriad of narrow, busy streets. We could have been in Accra or Nairobi with the noise, the colours and the smells. People, cars and animals everywhere. Horns honking and whistles blowing continually. And, of course, the humidity immediately turned my airplane straightened hair back into its more natural fuzz.

We went straight to CECI Place where I will be staying. It’s in one of the better parts of the city – Baluwatar – where many of the embassies live. After a brief intro by Rajendra Khadga (CECI’s finance and admin officer), Bernie was sent off to the place where he will be staying and I was taken to my room on the third floor. There are three others staying up there with me – two University of Ottawa students doing an international internship with Uniterra and one other young woman also on internship, but with a different organization.

A quick shower and then fell into an exhausted slumber. About five hours later when I finally woke up, I was able to do a bit of site-seeing around the neighbourhood – at least until it started pouring. I’ll go on the full tour tomorrow.


I’m off to read the big binder of info that Rajendra left for me.


Filed under Kathmandu, Sue On Leave

On the road …

I have been able to pick up the internet in a little cafe in the airport in Bahrain.  Bernie (another Leave for Change volunteer) and I have been up for approximately 34 hours and we still have another 5 hour flight ahead of us before we get to Nepal.  The flight from Toronto was delayed an hour but otherwise our flights have been happily uneventful.

Bahrain is very much like Dubai (at least from the perspective of the airport).  There is a mix of suits and traditional dress among the men and the full gamut of shorts to abaya (did I spell that correctly?) amongst the women.

Our Gulf Air flight from Heathrow was long – seven hours.


Filed under Kathmandu, Sue On Leave