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Mt. Kanchanjungha (28,169 ft)

Mt. Kanchanjungha (28,169 ft)

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Monday, January 11, 2010

The Situation

In the timeless words of Murphey -- if it can go wrong, it will. Taplejung is on its 14th day of a Maoist "Band" -- strike. This is a more strickly enforced than the Band in KTM yesterday. It is to the point that trucks delivering food have not been able to get to the District Headquarters and people are starving. This should not affect our trek -- we are taking a 24hour "night bus" to Basantpur and then trekking up to Phakumba but it does deter plans to visit the Headquarters.

Tomorrow, Suman is taking his driving test practical. David and I are going to SWC, picking up rice, dal, sugar, and tea, and preparing for our 2:00 bus ride. It will be our last access to internet for some time -- so we'll try to post again in the morning.

Meetings

Things have been happening so fast, we haven't been able to update as often as we would have liked. So here's the synopsis --

While in KTM, we have been trying to meet with as many people as we can. It started with a man who works for the National Fund for Education. (I don't have my notes from the meeting on me.) He explained the process of registering an NGO. It was incredibly complicated and there seemed to be a lot of "holes" in which money could leak. So we pressed a little, and found a much simpler process that falls more into our goal of working in communication with as many NGOs as possible.

Next, we met with Anil Parajuli of Himalayan Health Care (an Ashoka fellow and health-care provider). It was quite an honor and Suman, David and I chatted with him for 2 hours over tea about the specifics of establishing a health clinic. He pledged his support and, if appropriate, offered to teach us how to lead a medical trek to Phakumba. The most useful knowledge however, came in choosing a location. Though Phakumba is very rural, there may be other areas more central and accessible by more people (including Phakumbans) and we should scout them out. We plan to meet with him again on the tail-end of our trip.

Lastly for the day, we met with a leader of the Maoist party. Before I go on, however, I should emphasize that the Maoists, though prone to extreme practices, in this case, are just like any other political party. They are very established and, at this level, do not bare resemblence to the guerilla practices of '04. We were meeting for him to grant us his blessing and also his business card. Maoists in Taplejung could, potentially, give us some trouble. But, if we flash his card or, if necessary, give him a call -- all will be good. We will certainly elaborate on this meeting (that is, Suman will -- it was conducted totally in Nepali) -- but, in short, he thanked us for doing the work we were doing. We thanked him for meeting with us. We drank tea. He was philosophical. All was well and good.

Today, we met with a leader from the Communist Party. Nepal has 3 main parties, Maoist, Communist and Congress. We plan to meet with the latter (Suman's Aunt -- though not biological, on our return). We met, over tea, with Suman's father and (actual) Uncle -- Suman had to go midway through to take the written test for his driver's liscense leaving only David, Suraj and I. This meeting, for all intents and purposes, was symbolic. We wanted his blessing and support. Anytime we tried to ask a specific question, it was expertly circumvented. We got, however, a very nice summary of Nepal's economic and social make-up and an economcis book written in Devnagari (Nepali script).

Suman and I, later on, went to the Social Welfare Center to get a list of active NGOs in Taplejung. SWC is a lavish building with a large front yard. We arrived at 4:00 to find out most people have left, though it was not supposed to close until 4:30. We plan to go back tomorrow.

Another classic case of irony is seen in the Poverty Alleviation Fund building. It is by far the most modern building, comlete with air conditioning, that we have seen in KTM. But, not to dwell on the bad, such is life.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Trek

We have decided to postpone out trek for a day or so. Today is a Bond (shortening of Bondo - which means closed). In political protest, everything in Kathmandu is closed. Roads, shops, you name it. The intent of this variation on a strike, is to generate conversation with the government. Though, to be honest, the entire ordeal was spread by word of mouth and not many people know the Why to this whole What. Nevertheless, we must walk everywhere today.

Also, slight changes, Dorchi will not be our guide for said trek out to Phakumba. His mother-in-law passed away in October and his sister-in-law, who is studying in KTM and staying at his house, was not able to go out until she finished her exams. He will head out on the 16th.

Today we are going to a festival at Pashupatinath. It is not very far, so walking won't be a problem. Suman lives in an area of KTM called Ratopul (though I've counted 3 varied transliterations) -- it means red bridge. There happen to be many cognates between the Sanskrit-based Nepali and even English, certainly with the more classical Indo-European Languages such as French.

Our Nepali is improving ever so slowly. So far, we know the numbers. How to say our name. A smattering of random, and almost entirely useless nouns. And two verbs. Cha -- it is. Chiana -- it is not. But, we're making due and we seem to be converging on a kind-of Nepali-ish.

Our home in Nepal

After being picked up from the airport, we drove through the bustling, smog filled streets of Kathmandu to Suman's house. His house is a large vertical, apartment like structure tucked away from the main street by a litter of other homes and side streets. American homes, even in urban areas, tend to be built more 'horizontally' to increase the square feet of any single room. This, however, increases total land used. Suman's Nepali house constitutes four stories on a smaller plot of land, and a well utilized roof area that even, itself, has stairs ascending to a secondary roof area. At the second floor a rug ensues the remaining staircase and as I gathered from the piled shoes and sandals, no footwear were permitted beyond this point. Footless we dropped our belongings into a relatively large room belong to, well, I don't actually know who this room belongs to. Considering the hospitality with which we were treated, it could be Suman's mother's room for all I know. Hopefully its not. Subsequently, we were escorted upstairs onto the roof as food was being prepared for us. The view of Khatmandu from the roof of our new house, is enchanting to say the least. Each building caressed by the next such that a spectrum of soft colored edifices molded the cityscape. Past the outskirts of the buildings massive, venerable mountains stood at the perimeter overlooking the excited city.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Twitter

Also -- check out our twitter page at twitter.com/phakumba   or   @phakumba

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

...We've Arrived

3 days later, we are finally here. Our flight got delayed 5 hours in Brussels -- so we took the time to go out and explore, though, with the ever-increasing jet lag, we did so in a state of near delirium. But now, we are here. Suman met David and Sage at the airport and we headed off to la casa de Giri. More to come...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Packing - Sage

In under 2 hours, I will be, technically, en route. In this, there is a 2 hour shuttle to Denver Airport, a flight with a significant layover in Detroit -- then out to New York to meet up with David. We'll crash at his Aunt's place, then at 6:00PM the next day we'll be off to Brussels, Delhi and, very eventually, Kathmandu.
I am just finishing packing...last minute and neurotic as always. With a packing list 65 "things" long, and a frame-pack 70 liters large -- this is battle number 1. But, as of yet, things seem to be going swimmingly. To think that being in a house with a doctor (dad) and neuro-psychologist (aunt) and meteorologist (uncle) I am more than prepared for any physical, mental, or weather-related disaster that may come my way. Though, to be honest, there is something satisfying about packing light -- a sort of ad hoc sense of necessitated creativity. Here we are, about to embark on an adventure, replete with butt wipeys and pepto bismal. It seems, to a degree, to take away from the roughin' it aspect, surrounding ourselves with modernity to the extent of comically pointing out our reliance. On the flip side, this being my second trip, I know that certain creature comforts do get promoted to necessity and that the slight loss of adventure is fleeting -- a loss to be extinguished the moment we board our first plane.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

2 Days to go!

Hello and Namaste,

So this will be the official blog for the Phakumba Social Development Project (PSDP), under Concinnity International, for our group research expedition Jan. 2010. The purpose of this trip will be to collect data on the social infrastructure of Phakumba and initiate communication with the villagers. This information, besides from being anthropologically novel, will be used to inform and refine our skeleton social development model with the long-term goal being self-sustainable public infrastructure.
More specifically, we will be conducting informal recorded interviews in hopes of A) finding out how decisions are made at the individual, familial and public level B) prioritizing the village's need for public infrastructure (potable water filtration, medical clinic, school etc.). We are also concerned with and plan to research the environmental ramifications of development with the idea that you cannot truly reach economic sustainability without environmental sustainability. With funding from Oberlin's Doris Baron Environmental Fund, we will be collecting soil samples, testing water flow rates, documenting irrigation practices and, in communication with the local agrarian population, brainstorming the most efficient way to increase irrigation thereby increasing percentage crop yield and cutting down on deforestation and subsequent erosion into the Maiwa River.
With funds from Oberlin's Creativity and Leadership Fund, we will be collecting information in order to design and test an economic model for development. The basis of the model is as follows: we hope to give out relative high-interest micro-loans, provide business development services and facilitating the exportation of product; combined, these fall under the Microlending Plus category. The interest, along with funds accrued from exportation, will recycle into public infrastructure; the idea being that the support provided by the much needed public facilities with provide motivation to pay back the loans and increase the viable work force and product yield.
With funds from Oberlin's Shansi In-Asia Grant, David plans to study the interplay between religion and politics. Phakumba is primarily a Buddhist community, with a substantial Hindu and Karati (Buddhist/Hindu Hybrid) minority. There is little to no public religious infrastructure, so the majority of practices occur in the house. Not only is the documentation of this religious melting pot unique, but it provides vital information as to the village politics with the idea that an individual is influence by their religion and the individual is the unit for public decisions.
This is an ambitious project. We see this as the first step of many on the road to a sustainable infrastructure. As of now, Phakumba has a staggeringly high infant mortality rate and equally disturbing literacy level. A large part of this problem, comes from the lack of governmental support (both on the district and national level) but also, from a lack of conversation. Concinnity literally means "a harmonious adaptation of parts." With this, our goal is to empower the villagers of Phakumba to generate a social model, initiated via small loans, that will allow them to create the public facilities needed to alleviate irrefutable and, more importantly, self-declared problems. We, as an organization, do not presuppose a low quality of life and do NOT wish to impose a particular social order or system. We are merely facilitators. In this as well, we do not wish to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, and hope, in our January and Summer Expeditions, to be in conversation and partnership with as many local NGOs and INGOs as possible. Of note, we have initiated conversation with Save the Children, the dZi Foundation, Kiva Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, the Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation, and Himalayan Health Care. With the latter, we will potentially be a feeder into their tertiary medical facility in Illam (2 districts south) and have taken steps to establish this connection.
This trip could not of been possible without the help of our tremendous Oberlin Support and Advisory group: Eve Sandberg, Jordan Suter, Laurie Hovell McMillin, Erika Hoffman, Lauren Abdenschein, Jay Needham, Ann Deppman, President Marvin Krislov et al. For help with funding, this would not of been possible without the generosity of the Doris Baron Environmental Fund, Oberlin Shansi's In-Asia Grant Program (http://www.oberlin.edu/cgi-bin/cgiwrap/shansi/shansi06.php?section=home), Oberlin's Creativity and Leadership Fund (http://www2.oberlin.edu/creativity/), Oberlin's Study Abroad Program, the Student Finance Committee, and Asia House and Barrow's hall counsels. We also wish to thank our family and friends for putting up with our constant obsessing and supporting us for the past 8 months when this project began. To all of you: Dan Ya Bhaad.


Happy Holidays from all of us (ie 3 of us) at CI,
We'll see you in February,
Sage, Suman and David

PS: Due to technological constraints, we will not be able to post for the majority of the month -- but, we will be in Kathmandu for the head and tail end of our trek out to Phakumba and will update as much as possible.