Kathmandu

Recent Blizzard in the Himalayas: News Update

Hey family and friends,

Obviously, I’m still alive (I’m posting this after all). My deepest sympathies go out to the people who have died on the mountain including the 4 Canadians, and to those who are still missing. Apparently the Canadian embassy has not released the names of people yet, but fear not I am clearly not on that list. People have been contacting me to make sure I’m not on my trek yet, so I thought this would be the fasted way to reply to everyone.

The news articles say that over 20 have died now and more are still missing. People at my volunteer organization were also warning me about the recent news. It’s been a kind of scary morning trying to decide what I should do, moving forward.

As far as I know, there was a cyclone in India this week. Kathmandu was hit hard with rain; more rain than I ever remember seeing, even in my childhood! This caused a blizzard to affect the Annapurna Circuit. This is the western point of the Himalayas and Everest Base Camp (EBC) is in the eastern part, farthest from India (a thanks to Prajana for explaining this to me haha). My volunteer manager also explained that by November 1st the weather should settle down.

I called GAdventures who is the company that is taking me on the trek in a couple of weeks. Apparently it has not affected EBC at all, and all of the tour operators on the mountain have been accounted for with no injuries. The trips have not been cancelled and he assured me that everything will be ok.

I will monitor the weather over the next while, and continue to ask for updates on the mountain before I actually start the trek. Although there are risks in everything we do, I’m really not looking to die so I promise I will be safe. Love you mom 🙂

Until the next post,

-CS

P.S. For anyone who reads anything about an avalanche on Everest, just take note that it’s the media trying to bring up the April 2014 avalanche, and that was for trekkers climbing the entire mountain, not the base camp.

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My First (and hopefully not last) Dashain

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Me and the youngest two girls in our Kortas

Allo,

Earlier I posted an update about what I did during this week for Dashain, but I didn’t have my photos to go with it. Here is the completed update with the photos!

We gathered around to receive tika from our elder and a blessing in our new custom fitted clothing (Korta) that was given to us by our host family. During Dashain, you must give money to the younger generation after applying tika (a red paste) to their foreheads. You then go around the city to other relatives houses accepting and giving tika. Oh and eating. Lots and lots of eating.

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Grandfather is giving us Tika and blessings in English. We are laughing because his speech is very short and to the point.

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Me giving my Tika and money to the younger girls. I am an elder to them. Good god. Also I provided some pretty insightful blessings in Neplenglish.

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The Nepali Fam-Jam

I couldn’t get over the taste of the goat intestines. Also I had to swallow chunks of cooked goat fat which turned into swallowing it whole because I couldn’t bite into it.

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We gathered on a relative’s roof at a family party to have a kite battle in the sky. Apparently it’s a thing to not only fly kites but to try to attack with your own until someone loses theirs. This can get pretty aggressive. Children are terrifying. Just kidding…ish.

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We hiked in a very deserted Kathmandu (everyone is visiting relatives) to Durbar Square (one of the ancient cluster of temples) to see buffalo sacrifices. Every year 108 buffalos are sacrificed to reenact the bloodbath that occurred when the Royal family was murdered. It’s also a sacrifice to the gods for the holidays. We weren’t allowed to see because we are not Hindu, but I got a lot of shopping done =)

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The only time of the year that you will ever see Kathmandu look like this

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-CS

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Human Trafficking in Nepal: Child Labour & Female Sex Work (Research Update)

Today was the BEST day ever. Like, ever-ever. Well probably not, but it sure as heck felt like it 🙂

For those who forgot, Maddie and I have been asked to collect qualitative data in the Kathmandu area regarding human trafficking in Nepal, with a special focus on sex trafficking and child labour. I did not know when I signed up for this that I would actually get the opportunity to speak with influential people in this area of research in Nepal, but also in the world. What was the most impressive part of today was hearing the passion behind every organization. It was truly inspiring and motivating for me to keep doing what I am doing.

We first set off with our translator, and staff social worker to an organization that specializes with trafficked children within Nepal for labour with a focus in domestic violence and sexual abuse. To get there though we had to take what they call a “micro” bus. To give you an image, imagine a very mini bus that is stuffed with way too many people. The size of it though is comparable to construction worker’s truck (gosh, what are those even called). So many people that Maddie’s bum was hanging out of the “bus”, with the door open, just so we would fit. I had to bend my body in a 90 degree angle just to fit. Yes, that means my ass was out in the open unfortunately.

On route to our second location we got to speak with the executive director and co-founder, as well as the president and founder of SASANE Nepal. I was completely impressed with the entire experience there haha. They went through a thorough explanation of the entire organization, and answered everything we were looking for.

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The idea behind SASANE is very unique. They work with female survivors of sex trafficking who have their high school diplomas and train them to become paralegals. This serves many purposes. For one, it helps them better understand their own legal battle when pressing charges on their traffickers. Second, it allows them to offer information to other vulnerable women in similar situations, while also providing mentorship. Thirdly, it elevates their social status given that they cannot reintegrate due to the stigma of their sex work. This last part is so vital because it allows them to transform their public appearance in their communities. Finally, it provides them with economic independence in that paralegal jobs in Nepal pay well over the average Nepalese income. The director has also worked for 20 years as a human rights lawyer at what would be considered the supreme court level here. He’s also conducted research interviews with over 2000 traffickers and survivors of trafficking, collaborating with American, Swedish and Canadian Universities such as UofT and UofC. I was pretty star struck, and soaked up every minute of that interview.

After lunch (obviously yummy–we’re in Nepal after all) we went to a large police station that has a trafficking unit to interview officers in the field. What I thought was most interesting about that experience was how officers recognize that trafficking is a problem in Nepal, yet within their jurisdiction there has not been a reported trafficking case in over two years. We were told that as high as 96% of women who are rescued from trafficking do not press charges against their traffickers. It was shocking to know that millions of women are trafficked out of Nepal annually, yet not a single one in this area has reported it. An indication it is nonexistent? Hmmm…doubtful.

On the way home I was staring at the young boy working in one of the “micros” who did not look older than 10. I tapped his shoulder and asked him how old he was, and he couldn’t understand English. When I asked in Nepali he turned his head away from me. On our next bus ride, a police officer stopped our bus. He had a pretty animated discussion with the driver about the child who worked on the bus. Afterwards, I asked another passenger on the bus (yah I’m nosy get over it) who told me that the officer was upset about how young the boy was on the bus. He instructed the driver that the driver should not be employing children under the age of 14, and that he should not let them hang off the side of the bus.

DSC06217To give you some context: How buses run is that the driver drives while a child (always male) hangs off of the side of the door yelling the major intersections that the bus goes to. He is the one that collects the money and gives the change. They are always under the age of 18 and sometimes they even look as young as 10 or 11. In Nepal child labour is defined as a child under the age of 16 who is employed in full-time work that interferes with basic health standards and education. Unfortunately the laws are not enforced, and it is within the culture to accept child labour. This is not to say that every child worker is abused, but it does give some incite as to who can and cannot have access to education here. It also makes me appreciate our education system much more (those who know me know what a critic of it I am…).

Lots of information today. Maybe I should have apologized in advance. Oooops heh heh. I will say this, I am definitely passionate about research. I hope, with whatever job I will end up with, it will include opportunities for evaluation and research.  Until next post,

-CS

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A Buddhist Day

Hello all,

I’m writing this on my phone so quite possibly it might not send =S and that also means no photos.

But in any case, here’s the update:

DASHAIN
This week was (and still is) the 15 day festival celebrating the god Durga. Some really unique and memorable experiences were had.
1. I learned how to make a Nepali meal from start to finish (soon to be posted). Including how to prepare an entire goat that was sacrificed hours before.

2. We gathered around to receive tika from our elder and a blessing in our new custom fitted clothing that was given to is by our host family. During Dashain, you must give money to the younger generation after applying tika (a red paste) to their foreheads. You then go around the city to other relatives houses accepting and giving tika. Oh and eating. Lots and lots of eating.

3. We ate more than should be legal.

4. We gathered on a relative’s roof at a family party to have a kite battle in the sky. Apparently it’s a thing to not only fly kites but to try to attack with your own until someone loses theirs. This can get pretty aggressive. Children are terrifying. Just kidding…ish.

5. I ate goat intestines. It reminded me of my godmother’s squid soup (the texture of it) but I couldn’t get over the taste. Also I had to swallow chunks of cooked goat fat which turned into swallowing it whole because I couldn’t bite into it. That wasn’t the best.

6. I discovered that slow cooked goat is delicious.

7. We hiked in a very deserted Kathmandu (everyone is visiting relatives) to Durbar Square (one of the ancient cluster of temples) to see buffalo sacrifices. Every year 108 buffalos are sacrificed to reenact the bloodbath that occurred when the Royal family was murdered. It’s also a sacrifice to the gods for the holidays. We weren’t allowed to see because we are not Hindu, but I got a lot of shopping done =)

SWAYAMBUNATH
This is a World Heritage Buddhist temple that is known for its monkeys and impressive stupas. Today we decided to take a local bus, just Maddie and I, which was literally stand anywhere on the side of the road until a sketchy bus comes by yelling which Nepali regions they stop at. When you get on, you’re never 100% sure you will actually get there hahaha.

We get off and walk for twenty minutes and then climb stairs for what seems like another ten minutes until you’ve reached the very top. This was a particularly breathtaking experience because we got to see Kathmandu from the top.

BODHNATH
I almost considered not going here because of a satisfactory review, but I’m so happy we paid the expensive cab ride there (expensive being $10). This is Asia’s largest stupa! For those of you who don’t know what a stupa is, it’s a large Buddhist shrine with Buddha’s eyes on it. Inside this dome-like structure are holy documents, artifacts or remnants of important people that are locked up at the time of building it. When I asked a staff at VIN how they knew there really was something buried inside, he said that one has faith that there is.

This was probably my favourite stupa so far (well it was the biggest haha).

What I have noticed now are the backpackers have officially invaded. I was just telling someone last week that it’s so nice to be the only tourist. Everywhere I go I am the only one who obviously is foreign. Now they run the streets, dressed in multicoloured Nepali clothing (some really decked out) with hiking gear. So many gopros I cannot keep track. So many hiking poles in hand. I no longer feel original hahaha.

But none the less it’s been fantastic having a truly authentic and local experience. I am also really grateful to have spent it with a Hindu family who openly has welcomed us and has been so generous with us during their festival time. Can’t wait for Diwali!!

Tomorrow I go on a three day trip to the national park. Wish me well!

-CS

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VIN Dashain Celebration

Hello all…and so soon haha,

I am currently writing this, bobbing my body to Chandelier by Sia which has been on repeat for five times now. Whoops 🙂

I’m still warm from the Indian Whiskey that I tried tonight. For all the whiskey haters out there, I too was once in your shoes. I must say though that it was SURPRISINGLY pleasant. in small small doses; naturally. DSC05568

Today was Volunteer’s Initiative Nepal‘s celebration of the crazy and unbelievably long national holiday of Dashain, that lasts 2 weeks. That’s right…I said two weeks. You remember that the next labour day =S

We worked from home today…except that didn’t really happen because in Nepal they cut the power for hours on end every single day. Double whoops. My two roommates (Maddie & Beth) and I walked over for around noon. The children from the orphanages that VIN sponsors came in for games. I forgot how easy it is to please children. You can just introduce one game and they are set for hours.

DSC05570Their endless amounts of relentless energy is enough to remind you that you are seriously getting old haha. Then we proceeded to eat an obscene amount of amazing food that I also helped prepare. NBD.

DSC05561DSC05560After an intense game of limbo, we said our heartfelt goodbyes to the children. Then the staff at VIN collected us into the main room and exposed a stash of alcohol. This is when the big kids started to play.

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VIN co-founder Bhupbi, gives a thank you speech.

You wonder what this game entailed? Hours and hours of Nepali dancing and eating. It was really nice, and oddly, although the music and crowd were completely different, it reminded me of Christmas with my family; lots and lots of food, brandy (in this case beer and whiskey) passed around, community and everyone connected through dance.

It was nice to learn some Nepali dance moves too. I nearly pulled my back trying. Not really (but kinda really haha). I came home and proudly showed my homestay sister Sarita…who proceeded to laugh at me and call me “cute”…I guess I was better in my mind?

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Classic Crystal never stops dancing

DSC05615All-in-all, it was probably my favourite day of this entire trip. I just love being with people. It was also nice to see everyone in the organization just relax and have fun. There are just certain times in life that you meet such genuinely nice people. In this case, they are not only genuine, but also so passionate about their work. It’s so inspiring to be able to meet so many hard working people at VIN… who can also throw an excellent party!

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I probably couldDSC05629 have gone for another few more hours. But I really smell of toxic sweat, so it’s better for humanity that I just read my book and go to bed. Thank you VIN for a great placement so far and an excellent holiday celebration! Enough food to last me for 3 days…Happy Dashain everyone!

TA TA!

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Nepal Update: Week 2

Namaste,

Sorry fam-jam and friends, I’ve been really slacking in the posting department. The good news is I still haven’t been hit by a crazy car (knock-on-wood). The scheduling here is pretty redundant haha no exciting news there. I get up and eat rice with scrambled eggs, or if we are really lucky maybe some curried veggies, dahl and rice. We then eat the same dish for lunch, and a new meal for dinner. I am still not sick of the food only because it honestly is so excellent. I am on a mission to collect as many recipes that I can, so far zero have been collected.

Touring on the weekends have been fun because the volunteers have all gotten together and planned trips. Now with Dashain in full force we are working on our report for VIN and hope to schedule all of our interviews when we return October 10th.

This week specifically though I had a very surreal moment that this is my life haha. Naturally one should always know they are living; the very act of questioning would probably be the first indicator that you are living. But it just all really hit me as I was on a bus in the middle of nowhere, that I really am here. Because of this reality check, I really felt a rush of gratitude. It feels good knowing that I am capable of going after exactly what I want, and achieving it. Note to self, apply this kind of commitment to job searching when I get home. Lord, home. it’s definitely not time for me yet.

-CS

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Our roommate was on her period and had to wash and dry all of her dishes because the residual water on them is considered dirty while on your cycle.

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In case you didn’t know, children are very good at learning technology fast. Also, their stalking abilities are very advanced. The youngest one was playing with my camera while I was sleeping.

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We had our first interview with probably the most important and famous organization in Nepal and the world regarding sex trafficking. YAAAH I was a little star struck entering, not gonna lie. I was really impressed with how unique their programs are. Once a missing woman’s report goes out, they investigate with the Nepali-Indian border patrol, who search everyone trying to cross the border. They also have fake customers in Nepal and India who go into brothels to find trafficked women. 

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Our host family got us a present for Dashain. We are getting custom fitted Nepali style dresses. This is us before getting fitted.

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They also got me a new nose ring!

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Sarita really likes to do hair

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Finally, before going away for a mini-holiday in a near by town, we watched Frozen with the younger girls. Nothing like a little Disney to bring people together.

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Move in Day: Kathmandu

Namaste Sabaaijana,

Today I got to leave the roach infested hotel room. YAYYYY. I was starting to get desensitized, really, to those nasty little things. They became a challenge of sorts with my roommate and I to kill as many as we could, and as fast as possible. But every Olympic must end some day. Ok now I am grossing myself out…

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

Today we went into the agency to solidify our schedules for the next couple of months. I finally gave my donation (THANK YOU TO EVERYONE READING WHO WERE SO GENEROUS TO HAVE GIVEN THEIR VALUABLE TIME AND MOO-LAH/HOLLAR DOLLARS) and I will be figuring out where it will be allocated in the Women’s Empowerment “department” soon. Tomorrow we make a time line so that we can keep ourselves on task for this new project; it’s going to be a lot of work in a short amount of time. So far it’s looking like…[warning skip if you are not interested in community development].

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Our names written phonetically. The highlight of our language class…and the curse/impolite words.

Phase One: Research

  • Come up with our research questions and measurement tools
  • Contact community contacts (professional workers in sex trafficking within Nepal, and survivors)

Phase Two: Data Collection & Final Report

  • Literature review
  • Qualitative data collection: open ended interviews; recruitment by partnering agencies
  • Case notes and synthesis of interactions with women to have on file at the office for future reference
  • Manual for organization

Phase Three: Campaign & Mobilization

  • Take all the information from our report and make it accessible to the community in the form of seminars
  • Objective: To reach out to 300 women, 10 sessions with 25-30 participants each, for 20 hours of interactive psycho-educational seminars

NEPALI CULTURE

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According to lonely planet, Yangling Tibetan Restaurant serves the best Momos (a traditional Nepali delicacy). They did not disappoint one bit. We all shared and I thought the pork was the star with the buffalo meat a close second. UL pork fried; UR vegetable steamed; LL chili chicken; LR buffalo fried.

Namaste, Mero naam Crystal ho! Malaai sutna maanpar. K Chha?

HAAAAH yah i’m taking Nepali classes to learn the language. They are teaching it to us like they teach it to children, so that means I will be struggling the entire time haha. It is a very simple language to pronounce, much easier than others I think. The writing however is so confusing…as you can see haha.

In addition, we have been slowly learning traditional customs to assimilate well into the environment. For example, did you know that while I’m on my menstrual cycle I cannot enter the kitchen, nor can I eat with the rest of the family. In Nepal for some more traditional families, it’s important that women are separated. Also, when a woman has her first period she has to be removed from her home for 15 days, in darkness, where she eats continuously. When she exits into the light she is a woman. Obviously like with any culture there are those who do and do not maintain old traditions.

The food update is: Still amazing. I’ve already asked if I can cook at the agency so hopefully I will return to Canada with a mind full of delicious food recipes. I am currently living with a host family who has a private cook, and so far the food is excellent. For dinner we had a lentil puréed soup, white rice with a fried egg on top, and curried green beans with onion. Speaking of host family…

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Because the beginning phases will be mostly qualitative research and writing, we are staying in Kathmandu. This is both great and crappy haha. It’s great because it’s so easy to get around Nepal from the city, and I am staying in a pretty luxurious three story home Nepal Photojournal-2with a private entrance and living quarters. Not too shabby. It’s crappy because everyday I must fight for my life through pollution and crazy car drivers to get to work. Lord. The last leg of my trip I will be moving into a small village with a farming family, so that will be a refreshing and entirely different experience. I am very grateful to be able to experience the two, and plan to thoroughly enjoy both for what they will be.

I will say so far the people at the agency, hotel and host family have been above and beyond kind to us. Example, my good-for-nothing Rogers cell phone (It’s official I will never trust this stupid cell phone provider again) has failed to unlock my phone, but someone gave me theirs to use while I am here. Everyone is just so friendly and considerate. It kind of rubs off a little haha.

Well, that’s all that I for now folks.

Shubha raatr,

-CS

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First Full Day in Kathmandu

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A photo of the winding street that leads to my hotel.

Soooooo here it goes,

The only way I can describe my initial reaction is by saying that it was congested, surprising and unfathomable. I actually used the word unfathomable. I knew there would be a somewhat of a culture shock, but I say that and still don’t believe it haha. For those who personally know me, they know that I am constantly curious about all aspects of different cultures from food (hells yes), to language, to customs and religion–fashion is not reeeeeeally a big interest, sorry to say. I also love reading non-fiction, memoirs, historical fiction, travel blogs and often will watch documentaries and look at travel photography. I basically spend my spare time learning about what everyone else around the world does in their spare time haha.

So when I say I am currently experiencing a culture shock, then I seriously mean it!

I’ve heard stories from other friends, I’ve read online, I’ve seen the photos, but actually living in it is an entirely different sensation and experience.

We had our first day of orientation which discussed the building of the organization. Working in community development before, I can really appreciate how difficult it can be to build something at the grassroots level. To see how VIN has truly done so much, in only 7 years, is impressive. They work from a holistic framework in intervention, which is what my Masters degree emphasized, so coming in I am very optimistic but realistic as to what that will entail in my everyday experience from here on out.

The general observations I’ve made:

  • There are no enforced driving laws. What’s that? You want to ride on a motorbike? with 4 people? Why not? Oh you think a 7th lane should be added to make more room for cars? Great idea! Oh…? It’s ok if

    This picture captures the chaotic mess of wires that hang everywhere. Notice the man wearing a face mask. It is very much necessary to wear one when walking.

    someone is driving too slowly, just move into oncoming traffic and pass them before you get hit.

  • The pollution is so thick in Kathmandu. It is so thick that it took an hour after a 45 minute walk before I stopped wheezing and coughing. To be fair I was warned but I really didn’t think much of it haha
  • The food is excellent. Not as heavy as Indian food, smaller portions than Canadian South Asian food, and really excellent flavour. yum yum. I fear I will gain so much weight from all the rice that I won’t be able to fit into my pants. sigh.
  • It is very normal to see broken wires hanging above puddles of water. Enough said.
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OR2k. We were seated at a table and chairs, but the remaining seating were pillows on the floor that you sit cross legged on. Also, there is a black light over everyone and the menus are made to glow. My order was a naan wrap with hummus, fried eggplant and hard boiled egg. It was really good haha.

That’s really it so far. I keep getting mixed reviews about the type of people that live here. The vast majority have said how hospitable and kind Nepalese people are. Then after the last two days I keep hearing about the begging problem and all the safety precautions about going out at night. I can’t tell how much of what is true. Hopefully I’ll find out the good way and not the bad.

-CS

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