Category Archives: Sue On Leave

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

The rains continue …

It poured all night again and was still pouring when I got up. The internet wasn’t working either, but the indoor water was running and the water heater had been turned on so I was able to have a lovely hot shower. Usually we keep the heater turned off because the water gets way too hot and the shower only has the one tap. But, with the slightly cooler weather and keeping the dunking time to a minimum, I didn’t get scalded.

When the CECI staff started coming into the office I got them to bump the router to get us back on the internet and I spent the rest of the morning hiding out from the deluge and working on the fresh install of the Knowledgetree software. It was quite frustrating to discover that the new version didn’t change the situation and many of the documents are still not getting indexed. It seems I may have to resort to my alternative shared directory structure. The problem with that is limiting access to only certain computers and users. I need to do a bit more research. I submitted a bug report to Knowledgetree support but I don’t know how quickly they will respond to a request from the Community edition (ie free) version of the software.

The rain had stopped by noon so I headed in to the CMF office and spent the rest of the afternoon working with Ruchi organizing documents into the directory structure. I set up the file-sharing capabilities to see whether Ruchi could access the documents from her desktop and that worked. But we need to restrict access so I had to turn it back off for the time being. I really wish we could resolve this Knowledgetree issue. That would still be the best solution.

Some of the CMF volunteers are leaving soon and they were having a party for them after work. I took my gear back to CECI, tidied up and then returned for the party. I thought I had timed it properly and arrived about 1/2 hour late but the party didn’t start for another 1/2 hour. I will learn. Anne (being a former CMFer) showed up and after visiting with everyone for a while we headed over to Trendy Cafe for supper.

We met up with some VSO’s (a British agency like CUSO but they take people from all over the world) who were friends of Anne. Julie and Anil are a married couple and Pam is on her own. All three have grown children and are from Britain. They have all been in the country for well over a year mainly working with various NGOs. Anil gave me some advice on travelling to Chitwan and Hetauda next weekend. It might be best to fly there since I don’t have a lot of time and the roads are rough. We shall see.

Back at CECI I discovered that the wet shoes I had put on earlier have left lovely black markings on my feet. Will the shoes ever dry? Will my feet ever recover?

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Monsoon season

It poured rain all night and I got up to no running water inside (though I could still hear it beating down outside) and still no internet. I didn’t realize how addictive the internet is, especially when you can’t just call up your family or friends.

It was still pouring when I headed for CMF, but I had learned how to turn on the water pump when it goes off and Rajendra had booted the office router so we were able to access the internet. I found a response to my forum query suggesting that we upgrade to 3.6.1 because it was more stable than 3.6.0.

My puny umbrella was next to useless so I was quite wet by the time I got to CMF. Their internet was down as well so I couldn’t follow up on the response about our indexing problem. To be on the safe side, I decided to exercise my alternate option of storing all the documents in an organized directory structure that I can set up for sharing. Ruchi and I spent the rest of the day making sure that all the documents that we had loaded into Knowledgetree so far were replicated in the alternate directory structure.

Once we were finished, I asked her to carry on collecting documents on the pin drive and I would head back to CECI to download the newer version of the software and install it. Downloading ended up taking about three hours.

Meanwhile I had heard from Luni Bista (her brother-in-law, Ajoy, in Canada had sent a parcel for his mother) inviting me to come to her place for dinner. The rain had stopped by then so I headed out to try to find Jawalakhel – in the southern part of the city near Patan. I ran into Bernie so invited him along. Our taxi driver wasn’t sure where to go, but after checking with a policeman he headed out. This time of day traffic is fierce, but the strike was settled so the buses were also back on the road. There seemed to be some military action as well because some streets were blocked off with long lines of military and we ended up going a round-about route. It took over an hour, but we were dropped off near the bakery where Luni requested we meet and she easily picked me out in the crowd.

She led us a couple of blocks then down a muddy alley to an area of lovely big homes surrounding an ancient brick Newari-style house with the typical wooden shuttered windows. Luni said that the old house was the original and when the family grew too big, the surrounding land was parcelled out to the sons who then built the big homes all around. She then led us into her courtyard and up the steps to the second level, past the little white spitz-like dog who seemed to take a liking to me. We were settled into a little sitting room where her son Ashram (I think that was his name) who would be around thirteen joined us. He is a really sweet boy who helped his mom with the host duties and translated for the grandmother when she also joined us. We were presented with a pile of photo albums that traced the history of the young family – Luni, her husband (Ajoy’s older brother) and their son. The wedding pictures were fascinating, with all the finery and Hindu traditions. Ajoy’s brother is in the military and has done a number of stints with the UN. His pictures of Somalia, Sierra Leone and Liberia were fascinating.

Ajoy’s mother was a lively little woman who welcomed us warmly. If we could have spoken the same language I know we would have been chatting up a storm.

We were then fed probably the best Nepali meal I have eaten since arriving. According to their traditions, Luni and the grandmother did not eat with us but Ashram did. The grandmother brought in a pickle that had been in the brine for months. It was delicious and set off the flavours of the Dal Bhat perfectly. After the main meal, we were brought tea and dessert. The dessert was another Nepali dish which, I’m afraid, I’ve lost the name for, but was wonderful as well.

By then the rain had begun again and I remembered that I had come away without my umbrella. Luni and Ashram walked us to our taxi after we had a session of pictures. Grandmother stood beside me and we laughed at how short she was compared to me.

Back at CECI I sloshed my way through ankle-deep puddles to our door. I hope my shoes survive this. I was totally drenched by the time I made it to my room.

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Filed under Centre for Micro Finance, Sue On Leave

In search of Everest

On Saturday Bernie and I headed for Nagarkot where, if our luck held out and the monsoon clouds lifted enough, we might get a glimpse of Everest. A young taxi driver picked us up at Baluwatar Chowk (traffic intersection closest to CECI Place) and off we headed. There is currently a bus strike (called Bonda) on so taxis are at a premium. We were lucky to get one within the appropriate price range. Just past Pashupati nath we did a driver switch. Older brother Ramesh took over. He turned out to be much more than a taxi driver. He was a veritable tour guide, answering our questions and offering to stop whenever we wanted to take pictures. The road was full of potholes and as we rose into the hills it turned into a series of narrow switchbacks. Every curve I held my breath praying not to meet some truck. Somehow we managed to avoid them even when we did meet. The teeming city had turned into a lush green countryside with rows and rows of meticulous terracing containing mainly corn, rice and potatoes. Housing construction changed as well. More and more we began to see the bamboo slat and adobe style houses common in other developing countries. It took us over an hour to travel less than 30 kilometers.

Ramesh took us to probably the most expensive hotel in Nagarkot. Luckily it was full. The next hotel, Countryside Villa turned out to be on the expensive side though we talked them down from $75 US to $40 US per night. It was lovely – built into the hillside overlooking a valley that was bordered on the far side by the towering Himalayas. Everest was there but mostly obscured by cloud. Periodically we would get glimpses that Bernie and I agreed had to be Everest.

After a session of bird-watching accompanied by a drink and snacks on the outdoor balcony, we headed out for a trek. We sauntered down the rough track leading up to the hotel, checking out some of the lesser hotels as well as the birdlife. Bernie identified the big birds circling overhead as Kites. At Club Himalaya we discovered a tourist map that indicated a lookout tower 4 km past the hotel, so off we headed. The road wound ever upwards past spectacular views on one side and army ranger training grounds on the other. We satisfied the guards with a friendly ‘Namaste’ as we passed. Ramesh had indicated that this was a ‘Lovers Lane’ and his description was borne out by the number of couples that passed us on motorcycles heading upward. After a struggle reminiscent of the climb out of the Grand Canyon, we made it to the lookout tower. The place was obviously pretty popular because there were a number of picnicking families and quite a few couples wandering about. I actually think that some of the views on the way up were better, but by the time we arrived the clouds were moving in again.

It had taken us two hours to climb the 4 km and it took less than an hour to get back to our hotel. We cleaned up then met on the balcony for a delicious supper of local Thali. This was the first time since I arrived in Nepal that I needed my sweater. It is definitely cooler in the mountains.

It poured rain that night but had stopped by morning. I was up by 5:30 am to watch the spectacular sunrise that I had been told about. I had to chuckle when I stepped out on the balcony into a thick blanket of fog. You could barely see the balcony below let alone the valley or mountains beyond. I sat for a bit and watched as the fog tried to break up, but eventually went back to bed.

Bernie and I had a wonderful buffet breakfast (North American style) with omelettes and fruit and watched for the fog to lift. It kept teasing us by lifting off the valley and letting the sun through and then rolling back in.

Ramesh had promised to come back to pick us up because, as he pointed out, we would have a lot of difficulty trying to catch a taxi back from Nagarkot. He arrived somewhere around noon and we headed towards Bhaktapur to see the ancient palace and temples. The ride back down the switchbacks was even more harrowing than the ride up. It was a relief when we arrived in Bhaktapur.

The Durbar Square here is magnificent. Pictures just don’t really do it – not mine, anyway.
We spent the next few hours wandering around the quaint cobbled streets of the town, checking out the amazing wooden architecture, Thanku painting, clay pottery, and wood carvings.
There is a lot of eroticism in some of the depictions of the Hindu gods in the Thanku paintings and wooden carvings. Ramesh pointed out a few of the more famous ones. He also pointed out the famous peacock window and the palace of 55 windows. He was a thorough tour guide, making sure we saw all the major sites in Bhaktapur. By the time we headed home, Bernie and I were wiped.

Back at CECI Place I cleaned up, snacked on a few things, and because the internet wasn’t working, went to bed early.


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End of Week One

This morning I called Jasmine on Skype – computer to computer. I went up to the roof with the computer, turned on the video and was able to give her a panoramic view from the top of CECI Place. It really is quite spectacular.

At work I noticed that we are having an indexing problem with a number of the documents that we loaded into the system. It uses the Tika Apache Extractor to pull out the words from the document for indexing and for some reason a large percentage of the documents are being rejected. I believe it may have something to do with control characters but I haven’t found a way to get the extractor to ignore them. From checking the knowledgebase it seems there is a way to do that but I haven’t discovered what it is. It just says that the problem was resolved by ignoring them. Help!

Despite that, we were able to load another bunch of documents into the system. In fact, Ruchi did all the work and I just sat on the sidelines as coach. We both felt wiped by the end of the day but satisfied that we had accomplished a lot.

She was heading off to visit family out of town this weekend. I told her I was heading for Nagarkot to see if I could get a glimpse of Everest.

When I got back to CECI Place, Carly was there ready to wisk me off to the main shopping district downtown (New Road area) where we found a great shop selling lovely material. You can buy a package which contains material for a salwar kurta (also called kameez) outfit consisting of a long top often containing embroidery or some design, pants (either tight fitting or loose) and a matching scarf. I found two packages that I couldn’t pass up and then Carly led me to a nearby seamstress. We had to climb up a steep and narrow staircase (somewhat like the stairs to my attic) to a little shop where three generations were (wo?)manning the business – a toddler grabbing at her wrinkled granny’s glasses and a very efficient mom who measured me thoroughly for my new outfits. I emerged from there excited about the prospect of wowing my friends back home with my new clothes.

Back out on the street again, Carly led me on a shortcut through some back streets to where we could catch a cab home. But the shortcut!! It was camera heaven! The streets were crowded with vendors plying everything you could think of from spices to wooden marionette Ganeshes, from shoes to copper and brass plates. The colours and movement were incredible. There were wonderful old (and I imagine VERY old) shrines with amazing carvings and metal sculptures dotted throughout. I couldn’t get enough of it.


A taxi took us back past the palace where Carly tells me the locals line up to go through the grounds on Saturdays. The king was dethroned over a year ago and is no longer here.

Here I thought I was getting to know Kathmandu but I’ve been cocooned in a very small and quite privileged area. There is a whole big wild and crazy city out there.

After resting up a bit I headed out with a number of the kids to Buzz Cafe to meet up with Anne and Bernie and celebrate with Pakesh – the owner – who is a great friend of the kids. Pakesh enjoys throwing parties for his friends.

Bernie and I are heading for Nagarkot tomorrow to do some site-seeing, try to get a glimpse of Everest and possibly do some trekking.


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Making progress

No meetings and only 10 minutes of power loss – a great day! Ruchi and I dug in and tackled the new system and came out smiling. We proved that we could very quickly enter a whole sub directory of reports in one fell swoop and within a minute they were indexed and therefore searchable. We set up the main users and assigned group privileges and then proved that we could log into the system from other computers. We set up some project information metadata and then loaded some project reports. The system forced us to enter the mandatory project info metadata before allowing the load to complete.

In the afternoon, the IT consultant’s right-hand man, Karan, joined us to try and figure out how to assign a static IP address to the Knowledgetree server. I don’t think he quite understood what I was trying to get at so Ruchi took a stab at it in Nepali. Finally I googled the problem and once he saw it in plain text he caught on. I guess the Canadian accent is as tough for him as the Nepali one is for me. Between the three of us we figured out how to do it and now it works like a charm. We decided that we make a good team. One other thing Karan was able to help me with was loading the fonts for Nepali characters. Now Word documents in Nepali display properly. I had been having trouble because I had installed Word before I left but had not tried running it. It wouldn’t accept my product code so Karan was able to re-install using the CMF product code. Much later it struck me that I had changed the time zone on the computer when I got here and I wonder if the product code hashing depends on time zone. Who knows?

Bernie came by after work. I think he is making some headway in his project but he says his clients are very much like his Canadian clients – more concerned with the visual than the functional. We wandered over to Anne’s to pick her up to go to Trendy Cafe for supper. She had already eaten but kept us company. Bernie and I tried vegetable thali which was delicious. Trendy is on the top floor of an office building close to my place. It affords a decent view and is a fairly classy joint, but best of all, the food can be trusted.

Anne may go with us to Nagarkut on the weekend. If there aren’t too many clouds we should be able to see Everest from there.

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Solar eclipse – huh?

I was up on the roof by 5:30 am ready to take in the solar eclipse but somehow I seem to have missed it. Of course, the clouds were thick and pretty much obscured the sun for much of the time, but even when you could see the sun there didn’t seem to be any eclipsing going on. According to news reports, though, this was the eclipse of the century. What do I know?

Looking east towards the eclipse and clouds.

I think I should have taken the eclipse as an omen. Ruchi was in meetings all morning so we didn’t do any document collecting, but I was able to spend the time fruitfully anyway. I set up some of the metadata for the various documents that we will be loading into the system. I’m becoming more familiar with the software and catching onto its capabilities. I’m sure Ruchi will pick this up quickly. I was also able to resolve my indexing problem – we need to get the IT consultant, Arbinda, to assign us a static IP address. Once I configured the indexing server with the IP address of the machine and the software port number properly, indexing was back in business. But I did also find out that the manuals I downloaded are images saved to pdf so the content won’t get indexed unless it is run through an OCR utility. I believe that is a purchased add-on. C’est la vie. I don’t think that will be an issue here though. Hopefully the pdf’s they have will be the original and not a scan.

I went back to CECI place for lunch and then on returning to CMF ran into Anne so invited her for supper. Ruchi was still at a meeting (or at another one) so there wasn’t a lot I could do. When the power went off and looked like it was going to stay off for a while, I headed back home to bed. The heat and mugginess seems to wipe me right out.

Cooked up my rice and beans dinner (with a few adaptations) in a lovely rice cooker. Anne showed up with a couple of mangoes which added the piece de resistance to the rice dish. She has done a lot of traveling and working in this part of the world – Japan and India as well as Nepal. She has probably spent most of that time here so is full of good advice on places to see.

Ended the night by walking her back to her place. I hadn’t gone up the road in that direction. We walked by the Prime Minister’s house, the Chief Justice’s house and a couple of American diplomatic homes. Quite an impressive neighbourhood she lives in.

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First day

I was really eager to do a good job on the first day and, in truth, I’m still not over the jet lag, so I was awake by 5 am. It gave me lots of time to get myself organized for my first day at CMF. Nine o’clock turned out to be too early cuz Tej was in a meeting but by ten Nikunja and I were walking down to the offices of CMF. It’s not very far – maybe ten minutes of dodging traffic.

There is a very strong relationship between CECI and CMF since CMF was actually begun through a CECI project. Nikunja knew everyone there and introduced me to Tejhari (the CEO) who then introduced me to everyone else. I am still not very retentive with the names. Ruchi (a young Nepalese woman with the title Senior Program officer) was assigned to work with me exclusively for the time I am here. She is smart and beautiful as so many of the women here are. She holds an MBA from the University of Nepal. It was refreshing to work with her. We spent the morning analyzing the document situation of CMF and fairly quickly came up with a workable structure or hierarchy for sorting the documents. We discussed categorizing by document type and assigning other attributes based on the document type. She listed the CMF Strategic objectives which were very impressive. We realized that all the projects fell under one or more of the strategic objectives and so determined that this would be an extremely important attribute for project classification.

I went off to Trendy Cafe for lunch with Anne Burnside (a former CMF volunteer) and Amel (sp?) an Armenian lawyer studying at Harvard and doing a fellowship research project in Kathmandu at CMF. I ate Dal Bhat for the first time (the national Nepalese dish) and really enjoyed it.

After lunch I went up the road to CECI Place to pick up the HP laptop that contains the software I want to use for the project then headed back to CMF. Everyone was at a meeting so I settled into Ruchi’s office and tried to put into place some of the structure we had discussed in the morning. I ended up puttering around until 5 pm and noone showed up so I headed back home. Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to put a full day’s work in.

Bernie came over in the early evening and we ended up at Buzz Cafe for beer and nachos. His first day was quite productive and he has lots of plans for his time with the Non-timber Forest Product group. We discussed families and generally got to know each other better. Before long the kids and Anne joined us. A dart tournament got underway and Bernie headed home. It wasn’t much later that Anne and I left the kids to the tournament.

Tomorrow morning at 5:47 am Nepalese time there is supposed to be a full solar eclipse. I intend to go up onto the roof and try to take some pictures – as long as it isn’t cloudy or raining.


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CECI/Uniterra orientation

Another chock-full day, but this time we stayed mainly in one place – the CECI/Uniterra headquarters where I am staying. Rajendra took us around and introduced us to the people who make up the administration of CECI and Uniterra in Nepal. Kathleen McLaughlin, the Asia Regional Director was away but most of the rest of the staff were around.

Hari Bastala spent quite some time filling Bernie and I in on the impressive and tenacious history of CECI in Nepal. The program in its various forms has been in effect for twenty years, starting out as a single project instigated by a lone Canadian working with farmers in the western region of Nepal. From there it grew into a series of projects instigated by various groups who partnered with CECI to provide volunteers to help them carry out the projects. Despite the emergence of the Maoist rebels in the countryside and the ensuing threat to volunteers, CECI was one of the few NGO’s who were able to continue their work. This was most likely because they had the support of the local people. The Maoist rebels could not afford to jeopardize their own support by threatening the work of CECI. Personally I believe that CECI has taken the correct approach when working with its partners – ie the projects are instigated by the partners and CECI then helps to plan and implement the various phases.

We headed out to Mike’s restaurant for lunch where we met up with Carly, Kyle and Anne Burnside. Anne is the Uniterra volunteer that has just finished a year and a half working with CMF – the organization where I will be working. Nikunja Nepal, Uniterra’s senior program officer, came along as well. Mike’s was the brainchild of a former Peace Corps and specializes in good Mexican food.

After lunch Nikunja spent some time describing the new phase that Uniterra has just entered. They have organized the projects in which they are involved into three main categories – Agriculture and Rural Development, Non-timber forest products and Dairy. Bernie’s project falls under the Non-timber forest products category and mine (micro-finance) falls under the Agriculture and Rural Development category. Nikunja spent some time describing some of the projects Uniterra has been involved in and how they fall into the three main categories. Then she delved into some of the background of the caste system and how it may affect our relationships in our work. There is a definite move towards breaking down the barriers of the caste system, but it will be years before it totally disappears, although Rajendra feels it will be sooner than we think.

Again, it was a very full day. Keeping this blog is staving off some of the overwhelming feelings of information overload. By writing down some of the topics we covered I am giving my thoughts some type of order. Hopefully I’ve got my facts straight.

I finally got some money converted so headed off to the supermarket to see what I could pick up. It reminded me of shopping at the department store in Nairobi – lots of goods packed tightly on narrow shelves. I want to make that rice and beans dish that my girls seem to like. Hopefully Kyle, Carly and Inka will like it as well.


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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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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.


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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.


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Preparing for Nepal

I’m heading off to Kathmandu, Nepal on a Leave for Change project in July.

Uniterra, a joint initiative of WUSC (World University Service of Canada) and CECI (Centre for International Studies and Cooperation) offers a program, Leave for Change, which enables organizations and their employees in Canada the opportunity to help reduce poverty by working towards achieving the UN Millenium Development Goals. Employees of the participating organizations volunteer their holidays along with their technical skills and experience to short-term (two to three weeks) international assignments. The employer contributes to the pre-departure training and some of the logistical costs, while Uniterra (through funding from CIDA) covers the rest. Uniterra carries out the volunteer selection, training and project matching as well as host country support for the volunteers.

I have always been fascinated by Nepal so I’m looking forward to experiencing it first-hand. I will be working for a micro-finance group helping them to organize their electronic resources. Anyone who has seen my desk at work will agree that I am an unlikely candidate for organizing files, but it is never too late to mend my ways. Luckily I work with a number of well-organized people and I have been studying their methods since I learned about this project. Hopefully I will actually be able to help the Centre for Micro-Finance.



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