Thanks for stopping by...

I'm Tami, and like all of us, I'm a work in progress. Recent years have been tumultuous, and I've allowed the tumult to define me during my grief and recuperation---needfully and reasonably so. It was a tough time. But in time I was ready to move forward. Now I've begun to move on and redefine my next chapter. I want to live fully and hopefully, and since I love to write and like to share, I will pursue and engage in my goals and pleasures and share them with you, for (hopefully) both of our enjoyment.

Thanks for sharing the ride.

Living the Dream...

Living the Dream...
Gazing Upon the Himalayas in Nepal

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Community Clinic and Getting Ready to Come Home...


Today was a very quiet day during which I spent a lot of time sleeping and reading. I’d been feeling increasing more ill with the passing of the past three days, so yesterday at the insistence of my hosts, I went to a doctor. I didn’t want to go, because I knew my symptoms were viral (and I was correct, as it turns out), and I refused repeatedly until Tara put his foot down and insisted. He wanted to be sure it wasn’t serious, and he said he wanted me to respect him and go for an evaluation. How does one say no to that? So despite my better judgment, off we went in the unseasonable rains on his scooter to a community clinic, which made me incredibly grateful to be an American (not that I wasn’t grateful already, but this just reinforced my gratitude).

The hospital staff treated me like royalty just by virtue of the color of my skin, which made me incredibly uncomfortable. I did nothing to deserve to be moved to the head of the cue. My skin color doesn’t entitle me to have tests performed that aren’t typically performed for the beautiful people who live here. But that’s exactly what happened. It is a community clinic, a clinic for the poorest of the poor, but that’s where Tara brought me because I suspect that that is what he knows best. It was discrimination in the form of favoritism, and while I appreciate that they wanted to treat a western foreigner well, it felt so wrong to get VIP treatment when others were just as deserving, indeed more so.

I was whisked to the front of the cue, where they drew blood (I saw no hands being washed, and afterward a yellowed piece of cotton was placed on the site where my blood had been drawn), then asked for a urine sample in a thimble-sized container (squat toilet with mold growing nearby, a mildewed mop in the corner and mildew stains on the walls), and finally, a chest X-ray (the most antiquated equipment I have ever seen, and a hospital gown that was last washed who knows when?). Tara told me that they wouldn’t perform such tests for the Nepalis; they would simply administer an antibiotic and send them on their way.

I didn’t have to wait for my tests at all, whereas the locals would likely be waiting 3-4 hours or more, Tara informed me. And they put a rush on getting the results, too. In no time, I learned just what I suspected: my lungs are clear and in general I’m as healthy as a horse (ok, they found a slight urinary tract infection but nothing more); I simply have a good, old-fashioned (albeit pretty brutal) cold virus. So the doctor gave me something for sore throat and headache, and an antibiotic for the UTI, and told me to rest. Which is exactly what I have done, and it has felt marvelous. I feel exhausted by this damnable bug, so curling up in bed with my book, drowsing and reading in turn, has been wonderful. My inclination is to see and do as much as I can in the time I have left, but I am being an obedient patient and resting, and I feel infinitely better for it.

I finished my WWII novel and have moved on to a revisit of A Game of Thrones. I’ve never read the most recent book of the series and since I have forgotten so much, I decided to begin anew. Besides, I find the plot so complex, what with the myriad characters and locales, that a revisit clarifies a great deal in my mind. It’s a great story, although undeniably violent. I’ve not watched the HBO television series, but I think I will. I don’t watch much television at all, generally, as I always prefer a good book to television. But I’ll give it a go and see if it lives up to the hype. I often like “loftier” types of reads---something edifying or informative, but sometimes a good tale is just what the doctor ordered.

I’ve begun preparing for my trip home, sorting belongings and washing clothes, trying to fit two new drums (Hindu drums: tabela) and a big wheel of yak cheese, along with numerous other gifts for my loved ones, into my two allotted bags. I am so grateful to my trekking companion and friend, Sue, because she was kind enough to bring me an extra piece of luggage when she came for our trek. I knew I wouldn’t be able to fit all of my gifts into my already-overstuffed bags, so I contacted her  before she came and asked her to bring another, as she was only using one bag of her own. She happily complied, and after our trek she returned to Austin with a suitcase already filled with gifts. Now I just have to deal with the drums and the cheese, plus my clothes and sundries. Thank you, thank you, thank you Sue! I owe you one…

I have loved Nepal immensely, so much so that I plan to learn to speak Hindi  (the closest language to Nepali that Rosetta Stone might offer, and sufficiently close to allow meaningful communication) and return to do some volunteer work. I have seen many beautiful places, but it’s the people who have touched my heart here the most. They are so kind, especially those in the remote mountain villages. Many of the trekking routes we took were the same paths and trails that the villagers use to get from one village to the next for visits or trade, and these routes traverse right through people’s homesteads. As a result, curious villagers were delighted to see the rare western trekkers passing through, and almost invariably stopped whatever they were doing to shout out a warm and hearty “Namaste!”  as they greeted us with hands folded in the traditional prayer-like attitude. Such a greeting is utterly charming, especially when uttered by eager and earnest children who love to have a chance to see a foreigner. And how often did these Nepalis invite us to share a bit of racksi (moonshine) or a cup of tea, perhaps some yak milk or dried cheese, when they had so little themselves! Their kindness was enchanting, endearing, and utterly wonderful. Their generosity was overwhelming. These are a good and kind people, a very peaceful people, and they have stolen my heart. I want to come back and bask in their loving nature as I do what I can to enrich their lives as they have enriched mine. Kathmandu lacks much of the charm and warmth of the mountains, but the people here are generally good, too...yet it is the mountain people who truly warm my heart, and when I return it will be to them I devote myself.

I love Nepal!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

"Wild" Monkeys and Miscommunication


Yesterday was another full day for me, despite feeling ill. I returned to the fascinating Pashmina and watched a few funerals and cremations. I wandered the streets and just looked upon all I saw in wonder, as even the most commonplace things, such as a cow wandering the streets, fascinates me. I photographed wild monkeys, much to the dismay of some local Nepalis who warned me through a series of gestures that I was getting far too close. I learned later from Tara that the monkeys sometimes bite, and will often steal anything you have in your hands, including an expensive camera, in the hope that it might be food.

For your amusement, here is a typical conversation between Tara and me, as I was perusing the market in search of ingredients for the meal I was looking forward to preparing for my host family:
(Sometimes when I speak with Chandu, who speaks even less English, the results are even more humorous):

ME: I have been looking for lettuce and I never see it here.
TARA: In Nepal we do not do letters. We have cell phone.
ME: No, not letters, lettuce. It is a vegetable.
TARA: Festival? Yes we have many festival.

Sometimes I will ask a question or try to convey an idea, and the response makes my head spin, it is so far off from what I was trying to say I can only smile. I mean no disrespect whatsoever in describing our baffling dialog, and I am not poking fun: it is a language obstacle, and I am sure they sometimes wonder if I am a complete lunatic or idiot! Sometimes we just look at each other and laugh let the current topic of conversation die, because we realize that sometimes a topic is just too big or too complicated for us to make meaningful dialog. There is no frustration, just acceptance, and we move on.

The home of my hosts sits directly across from an earthquake shelter, a tent city, but rather than being a dismal place, I am heartened by the residents’ resiliency and fortitude. There is always a flurry of activity there, with people washing their clothes in the nearby communal spigot, or preparing  and taking their meals outdoors. Children scamper and squeal playfully, and chickens roam the grounds. People can be seen sweeping the communal hardscape areas to keep them tidy despite the mountains of trash in the street mere feet away, and there are almost always children playing on the barren dirt soccer-field adjacent. Usually it’s soccer, but sometimes it’s badminton played with cheap dime store plastic rackets, or a simple game of tag. On the first night of Dashain, I could see a fabulous party taking place at the shelter. Remember the scene in the movie “Titanic,” where the best party on board could be found below deck? That’s what the first night of Dashain in the earthquake shelter looked like. I could see the people dancing---sherpa dancing, I was told---and they looked to be having a marvelous time. I tried to go to watch, accompanied by Tara, but I was turned away. “No outsiders,” they said. I longed to watch them dance and laugh up close, rather than from the second-floor apartment half a block away. Still, it was their party and not a spectator sport, and while I was very disappointed, I understood.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Spaghetti with a Side of Musings


It’s about 4:00 in the morning and, as per usual, I have awakened before the family. This time, however, I have awakened particularly early because I went to bed yesterday at about 3:00 or so in the afternoon as, alas, I am sick.  I have a raging sore throat and cough, nasal congestion, and slight fever. Yes, I have contracted a cold. Probably I have been exposed to some Nepali cold virus undoubtedly brought to me by Sangima, their school-age daughter. I am determined to tough it out as best I can though, because yesterday before I fell ill (or at least before my already-blooming cold reached its current zenith), I bought the ingredients to cook dinner for this family: one of my own family’s favorite, spaghetti with cheesy garlic bread. I could only find sliced white bread, no baguette or Italian bread, and instead of mozzarella for the cheesy garlic bread, I have yak cheese. And, of course, no lettuce for the salad I might typically make to accompany it. Not even onions for the sauce. When I asked about onion, I was given purple garlic. And no oven for the bread: just a two-burner propane countertop cook top, on which I will heat the sauce and boil the pasta and then use to fry the white bread in garlic butter.  But I did find real sauce and pasta imported from Italy at the big market, and to some of it I will add water buffalo meat (which they call “buff”), and to some I will add pork. (Some family members do not like buff, others do not like pork, so I will make both and let them choose as they wish.) I hope I can concoct a passable meal that my lovely Nepali hosts will enjoy. They have been so kind to me…

(LATER… Tonight’s meal was a resounding success, even though the power went out---again---and I cooked by the light of a flashlight. They ate all of the buff spaghetti sauce, but none of the pork. Somehow I misunderstood when I asked who would eat pork and who would eat buff. Turns out no one will eat the pork. And the garlic bread turned out great! Instead of the way I make it at home, which requires an oven, I made it on a griddle. I mixed buff butter, which I found at a street market a few blocks from here, with a bit of salt, garlic powder (also found at a street market), and buff cheese to make a filling. Then I lightly buttered the outside of some dry white bread, the only bread I could find, and used the filling between two slices and toasted them on the griddle. Everyone loved it, and I am so pleased to have made a simple meal that they actually enjoyed!)

Yesterday was Santa day. I took the family out to buy clothes and shoes plus a doll for Sangima and a ball and coat for Luna. (Much to my dismay, all of the dolls have fair skin and yellow hair. Such a pity! Why??????) I also met three members of the family I have decided to “adopt:” a young father with two small daughters who barely have enough to eat and whose daughters attend a dismal government school for the poor. He is a laborer and the mother, whom I didn’t get to meet, is very ill with “blood cancer” --- leukemia, I believe. (From what I could gather through our limited communication, the mother was with her own mother at the moment.) With just a little help, about $25.00 US per month, their children will be able to go to a better school where they will be fed a nutritious lunch and wear clean uniforms instead of the filthy tattered clothes they wore when I met them. The Diet Dr. Pepper I drink in a month costs me more than the $25.00 I’ll spend to vastly improve these children’s lives. It’s chump change, and if ever any of you wishes to do something similar, I have made contacts here in Nepal that will enable you to do so. No, you won’t get a tax refund receipt because I am not going through any organized charitable foundation. I’m giving straight to the schools on the children’s behalf. Charitable organizations don’t ever reach those who need it most because of the way funds are distributed. I believe that the Nepali government is corrupt, and it is their representatives who oversee how money is distributed, and believe me, the money is not making its way to the poorest of the poor.

I bought the family a crate of eggs---maybe 4-5 dozen--- because it is a source of protein that will keep without refrigeration---yes, an egg can last more than a month without refrigeration if it remains unwashed in its shell, and that’s been the way the world has done so for centuries until the USDA decided to begin washing the natural protective coating off of eggs, thus requiring them to be refrigerated. And, as a special treat for dinner, a fresh chicken. No, I can’t help Nepal in general, but I can maybe help two underfed waifs build a better future through education. But even with the best education, they are doomed to a life of struggle and, likely, poverty, just because of their misfortune to be born here in this beautiful but oh-so-poor country. For those of you reading this in the west, count your blessings, my friend. You won the geographic lottery. You could just as easily been born in Jamaica or Africa or Nepal, or any of hundreds of other poverty-stricken places throughout the world. No, you are not more deserving: you’re lucky, damned lucky, and I hope you don’t forget it.

Swasthani works at the local grocery store, where she earns 7000 rupees every 30 days. That’s roughly $70.00 US. every 30 days. That’s the staggeringly low amount of $2.50 US every day, for nine hours of work. Our minimum-wage workers in the U.S. make more for one day's work than she does in an entire month. And she’s one of the lucky ones. The unemployment rate here is 70%, according to Tara. Most of the decent jobs belong to government workers, and the nepotistic tendency toward favoritism means that unless you have a friend or relative who works in the government, you’re out of luck. The caste system, which is even stronger here than it is in India, also means a lot of closed doors for some very worthy people, such as my guide Bijaya, whom I told you about. He has a master’s degree in environmental science, and his grades were top-notch, but because he lacks “connections,” he can’t find work, so he serves as a guide when he is lucky enough to do so. Such a waste. I told Bijaya that he’d do well to leave Nepal with his talents and education and stellar mind, but he has a genuine desire to serve his country, and he vows to remain and wait until some day he can get his foot in a door. So admirable.

As an outsider, it makes me so damned angry to see what is happening here. This government is useless, as far as I can see. I’ll see dozens of police officers just sitting or standing around together en mass, doing nothing, while many citizens can barely eat. And if one should pull you over for a traffic violation, you can try to negotiate your fine, which goes straight into his pocket. If you can’t negotiate a satisfactory deal, you’re hauled off to the police station to face even stiffer penalties. The police are not public servants; they’re public tyrants, from what Tara and Kalyan have told me. But even Tara says that they are just trying to do what they must to feed their families, because they too have abysmally low wages. It’s a mess here. My trekking companion Sue and I paid fees equivalent to about $700. for the right to trek in the mountains---a huge sum by Nepali standards---, but what are those fees used for? Kalyan says that in his 14 years as a guide, he has never seen any preservation work taking place at the many stupas, temples and monasteries, which fall into ever-increasing decay. These places are the Nepalis’ national treasures---indeed, they are the world’s treasures, and with every passing day that they remain neglected, they fall into greater and greater disrepair. Many of them have been lost forever already, and more are sure to follow. As I walk through the mountains, villages, and cities of Nepal, I see the devastation everywhere, but only once, two days ago, did I see a single sign of any repair work taking place six months after the earthquake. Six months, and thousands of people throughout Nepal still live in tent cities. The Nepali government should be ashamed, and I would love to shine a spotlight on their ineptitude.

That is enough ranting for now. Despite this blasted virus, I’m off to explore a little more while I still can. Nepal is fascinating.

(LATER…I am sick. Truly sick. Sucks.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Typical Morning During My Home-Stay


My time in Nepal is quickly drawing to a close. I have enjoyed my stay immensely, but at the same time I am most eager to go home to be reunited with my loved ones, particularly with my beautiful grandson John, who, true to my predictions, has learned to walk during my absence and who has also begun speaking his first words. The only prediction I was mistaken on was my belief that his first tooth might also emerge. Otherwise, I regretfully have missed some pretty big milestones in a baby’s life…but there will be many milestones to celebrate in John’s life.

I am sitting in the darkness in the home of my Nepali hosts, as the electricity has been shut off according to schedule. Nepal seems to have a shortage of a great many things, including electricity, and the government routinely cuts off electricity to certain areas on a routine rotational basis so as to avoid overburdening the insufficient electric power grid. The practice is called load sharing, and it is a way of life here in Nepal. Somehow the major hotels and restaurants manage despite the periodic electric blackouts, and I suspect it is because they are equipped with generators, and perhaps solar panels, to provide electricity when the power goes out. As for the average household, candles and “torches” (flashlights) are a necessary staple. With the seeming abundance of rivers here, I do not understand why hydroelectric power is not implemented more, but it appears that the Nepali government is frustratingly ineffectual in a great many areas.

I began my day as I have every day since being “adopted” by this family. I wake before the dawn, unable to sleep any longer. The family around me continues to sleep for another half-hour or so as I enjoy the rare quiet, reading on my Kindle (an historical novel about life during World War II). 

As the family begins to wake, the household quickly becomes abuzz with the routines of the day. Baba (Father) Tara opens the water taps to collect water for the day into various containers, as later the taps will run dry, and even when they run, the water from the taps comes out tinged with brown. As the containers fill, he assumes duties with the baby, Luna (16 months): toileting (even as young as she is, Luna regularly sits on a potty chair), bathing, dressing, brushing her hair; meanwhile, Moma (Mother) Chandu begins her day by lighting the butter candle in her altar to her gods and filling the seven vessels of water. (Upon his birth, Buddah took seven steps, from each of which a lotus bloomed. The seven vessels of water honor this miracle.) She the begins heating water for tea as she prepares chapatti (tortillas) and seasoned potatoes for breakfast.

Swasthani, the beautiful young (21 years) niece who also lives here, busies herself with chopping vegetables, sweeping the floors and finishing tea preparation as Tata moves on to washing the clothes, a multi-step process beginning with soaking the clothes in water (which, as I've said, comes out of the tap a dismal brown color) in an enormous bowl, followed by laying them out flat on the bathroom floor and rubbing them with the biggest bar of soap I’ve ever seen, then scrubbing them with a scrub brush. After that the soapy clothes are gathered into a basin for the first of three rinses, with the water looking alarmingly dirty even after the third rinse. The reason the water looks so is three-fold: first, because the clothes are, of course, soiled; second, because the water itself comes from the tap dirty, and third, because fabric dyes here in Nepal are, I discovered to my dismay, notoriously non-colorfast. Everything I own has stains of red because I unknowingly soaked my clothes in a basin overnight, and one of my articles of clothing was a red shirt purchased here. And now, as I wash, I see that everything I purchased here “bleeds” as I wash it, even clothes that have been washed a half-dozen times.

Chandu continues breakfast preparations as Swasthani brings out a spiced black tea to start the day (delicious but often overly sweet! I confess that the lone houseplant has had more than its share of tea during my visit).  Swasthani begins chopping vegetables for the day’s meals. Chandu prompts her older daughter, Sangina (7 years) through her own morning routines as she prepares something for baby Luna to eat: perhaps dal bat (rice with lentils) or warmed milk with “biscoots” (cookies similar to vanilla wafers) dissolved in it. When Tara has completed Luna’s morning ablutions, Chandu feeds her. If dal bat, she uses her hands, which is how the Nepalis routinely eat.  If milk with biscoot, she uses a spoon. If the food is firm, she chews it first then spits in directly into Luna’s mouth.

(Interesting aside: speaking of the Nepali practice of eating with one’s hands, many Nepali women “varnish” only their left hands, as the right is used for eating and they don’t want to inadvertently ingest flaking nail polish.)

After the children are tended to, we all sit down to eat. I love the chapatti (almost identical to a tortilla) and now that I see how easy it is, I’ll be making my own homemade tortillas hereafter. But I’ll hold on to my knife and fork at home, thank you very much.

As all of this flurry of activity is taking place, Tara, Chandu  and Swasthani continually busy themselves with household tasks like sweeping the floor or cleaning as needed. The house is tidy and very pleasant: small but cozy and filled with a joyful and loving family. But keeping this wonderful little family fed and clothed and in a clean home requires a great deal of work, and without such niceties as a washing machine or dishwasher or vacuum cleaner, small tasks become big tasks very quickly. Indeed, yesterday I washed a load of my own clothes as described above, and the process took me about an hour. At home I’d have spent maybe a minute or two sorting and another minute tossing a load in the wash, adding detergent, pushing a button and walking mindlessly away from a task completed.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Homeward Bound...

Goodbye squat toilets and goat meat, racksi and Dashain. First thing I intend to do when I get home is hug and kiss my loved ones. Second thing: down three Diet Dr. Peppers over ICE in quick succession. Third thing: sit on a western flush toilet and sigh a big sigh of pleasure.

Austin, here I about 30 hours or so...

(When I get home I'll begin posting about my trip. I have had extremely limited internet access in the past several weeks, and I have much to share.)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Crematoriums and Phalluses: Just another Day in Nepal

October 22, 2015:

NOTE: This blog post is incomplete but I'm posting it for your reading pleasure anyway. When I get home I'll update it with some fun photographs and some additional narrative which will require a bit of research. In the meantime, my limited battery-life and internet access make it unfeasible to do so at this time, so check back. 

Yesterday was my first full home-stay day and night, and it certainly was a day filled with new experiences! There were moments that I’ve felt as though I've stepped into a completely different world, and indeed, to a great extent, I have! But before I elaborate on yesterday, let me step back a couple of days, to when Sue and I stepped off of the trail and back into such civilization as was to be found in Kathmandu: civilization, to be sure, but vastly different from the civilization to which I am accustomed in the west. (Don’t worry---as time permits I will share with you my impressions, photographs and recollections from the trail. But for now, I’d like to tell you of my recent experiences here in Kathmandu, while my recollections are fresh on my mind.)

Our transition from trail life to our respective post-trail experiences began at the Tibet Hotel, where Sue and I stayed for a couple of days following our trek. It was indescribably nice to enjoy simple pleasures such as a scalding hot shower, including a real washcloth followed by a real towel!  Equally as delicious were the clean fresh sheets, fluffy mattress and comforter, and impossibly soft pillows---not one but two! And then: oh, glory! Fresh clean clothes to wear! One tends to take the simple pleasures in life for granted when one lives in a world of abundance, so it’s certainly nice to relish those simple pleasures again even after a brief absence. When I hiked the Appalachian Trail I took a day off about once a week to bathe and wash my clothes and have a stay in a hotel. Hotel cleanliness along the AT was questionable at best, but at least I was able to wash my clothes and my body. This trek was the longest I’ve gone wearing the same clothes over and over---although I did have two full outfits, plus some extra socks and undies, which I was rotating through.

Kalyan was already committed to a new trekking group, so he left us in the very capable hands of a city guide friend of his, Bijaya Chapagain, an extremely charming and knowlegable young Nepali who holds a master’s degree in environmental science but serves as a tour guide because he cannot find work in his area of study. Bijaya took us to several notable locations within Kathmandu, beginning with the compound wherein cremations, among other activities, take place: Pashupatinath (  The place was utterly fascinating, and while there I witnessed not one, but two cremations from across the river Bagmati, which is the holiest river here and which ultimately wends its way to India and the Ganges, the ultimate in holy rivers for the Hindus.

Cremation begins with the body being carried in from wherever the deceased met his demise. If from a home anywhere in the enormous Kathmandu area, the body is carried in on a litter made from cloth and bamboo poles.  If from a hospital, an ambulance brings the body to the river. In either case, the body is wrapped in orange fabric, the sacred color of the Hindu people.  Loved ones gather by the river until all persons are present, then the ritual of cleansing the body takes place.

(An ironic aside: It is just after 6:00 am on October 23, and I am editing this post on the day following that in which I originally began it. The family with whom I am staying just received a call that a neighbor has died, and my host has been called upon to help. He explained to me that the family of the deceased calls upon family, friends, and neighbors to help carry the body to the Pashupati. People take turns carrying the body in a procession until they reach the river. It is in this way that the heavy remains of a corpse is conveyed for perhaps several miles until they reach the river. (My host, Tara Bahadur Gurung, was going to give me a lift to an area of Kathmandu  which I’d like to explore that is too far away for me to walk since public transportation here is far too difficult for a non-Nepali speaker, but of course those plans are now on hold for another day, as he is called upon to perform his cultural responsibilities to his neighbor. I could try to take a cab, but that too is a very iffy proposition, what with the current fuel shortage and many Nepalis tendency to take advantage of tourists.)

The body is placed on a sloped segment of concrete with the feet extending into the river for purification. A mixture of water, from the nearby temple, and milk is poured over the head. The body’s clothing is removed by the loved ones, who carefully remove the clothes from under the orange shroud, taking care not to reveal the body’s nakedness. The clothing is offered to the river, piece by piece, until the body is naked beneath the shroud. Then the body is carried to a platform on which wood has been carefully stacked.
Cremation begins with the deceased’s closest next-of-kin placing burning wood into the body’s mouth. Afterward, the professional cremator takes over, building the fire beneath the body using kindling delivered by children who are being raised as apprentice cremators. It takes about 7-8 hours for a body to burn, and I found the stench to be quite disconcerting. It smelled like the cooking of rancid meat, and knowing that one’s olfactory nerve is stimulated by actual minute particles of whatever one is smelling, I felt somewhat sick to realize that my own senses were being stimulated by the smells of death and charred human flesh, but I did my best to appear unaffected. I wanted to be as respectful as possible, but I felt ill with the realization that my nose was filled with the particles of a dead body burning.

In addition to cremations, the Pashupati is a place of worship and education. Many novice (children)Hindu holy men, priests and nuns make their humble homes on the grounds, and when I say humble I do mean humble. They live on a dirt floor with barely a roof over their heads, no walls, and beneath the roof is where they sleep and prepare their food and take their meals. There are classrooms for the monks, and I could hear them reciting their lessons in unison from within the walls. Our guide informed us that beginning from childhood, the children would recite their lessons so many times that they would have no need of the holy books from which they were learning by the time they reached adulthood, as they would have all of their lessons and scriptures memorized. Young monks who err or misbehave in any way are dealt with severely, and indeed I heard the unmistakable thwack of a stick on flesh as I listened to their oral lessons, but there was no cry that came after. I suspect that a cry would mean more discipline.

Numerous holy men live on the grounds of the crematorium, and they spend their days chanting and praying in one of the many tiny pagodas on the grounds. A few are legitimate holy men, but many have been polluted by westerners who, desirous of a photograph with these oddly-adorned men, have paid them money to pose for a picture. Now most of these “holy men” are nothing more than street performers such as you might see in New York posing as the Statue of Liberty. I allowed myself to be persuaded to take a picture with three such “holy men,” but I reasoned that at least they are not simply begging, which is what many desperate people here resort to. My tender heart has been compelled to give to numerous desperate people who have clearly not been served by modern medicine, as well as buying infant formula for several young mothers I found begging in the streets with infants clutched to their hips.

The crematorium is also a place of commerce. There are lots of peddlers selling their wares there, and many can be quite aggressive, although I recognize that their aggression stems from a sense of desperation. They are the poorest of the poor, and this year’s alarming lack of tourists following the earthquakes and landslides, compounded with the current political turmoil, has these poor people more desperate than ever. Still, it is extremely uncomfortable to be pursued for half-a-block by someone who is begging you to buy from them. And it is impossible to buy from everyone who would like to sell you something.
Inexplicably, the crematorium grounds are also a place for romance. Many young couples plan clandestine meetings there, and sometimes such couples even persuade the priests to marry them. Arranged marriages are still the norm here, but some of the modern young couples secretly marry for love on the sly. (Happily, this practice is slowly changing, as more and more traditional Nepali parents are acquiescing to their children’s desire to marry for love. Perhaps within a few generations, arranged marriages will be a thing of the past here in Nepal).

Following our fascinating tour of Pashupati, our guide took Sue and I to Swayambhu, also known as “The Monkey Temple” (although in actuality I only saw a handful of monkeys scampering on the grounds; there were far more monkeys on the grounds of the crematorium, where within seconds of my pulling it from my purse, a thieving monkey scampered up my body and held onto my skirt just long enough to steal the banana I held in my hands). We took in the sights of Swayambhu of beautiful temples and pagodas, including many shivalingam, a phallic symbol found throughout the sites of holy places and about which I intend to do more research to share with you. The numerous shivalingum around Nepal would suggest quite the preoccupation with phallic symbols, but as of yet I have been unable to determine their meaning in talking to the locals, what with their limited English and my nonexistent Nepalese.

Finally, our day with Bijaya ended with a visit to Hanumandoka Dubar Square, where we visited the site of the royal palace that was built beginning in the 16th century. Sadly, much of the site is now in ruins because of the recent earthquakes; an especially bitter loss is the oldest temple in Nepal (circa 1300???), which was completely wiped out. Bijaya confided that the first time he had a look at these world heritage sites, he cried. I felt like crying, too, and the loss to me is not personal, as it is to the Nepalis.  (During my trek in the mountains, my guides were looking at several villages for the first time since the earthquake, and I could see their heartbreak in their stunned silence. The devastation we witnessed was horrific, and I will elaborate more on that later.)

Sue and I had an amazing day exploring some of Kathmandu’s World Heritage sites with Bijaya on the 20th. By the end of the day’s activities, we both gratefully fell into our beds at a ridiculously early hour, savoring the feel of the luxuries of hotel beds and sheets once again. The next morning, I bid Sue goodbye and began part 3 of my Nepal Adventure: my home-stay with a Nepali family.

My trekking guide, Kalyan, arranged a week’s home stay with his brother Tara Gurung and his wife, Chandu, and their two lovely children: Sangima, age 7, and Luna, age 16 months. Also living with Tara and Chandu and their children is a beautiful young lady, Swasthani, whom I suppose to be a niece but the family is having a hard time explaining relationships to me. Sometimes they’ll mistakenly call a brother-in-law a step-brother, or even call a niece an uncle, so I am not certain how Swasthani is related, but I know she is a close member of the extended family.

Tara arrived to the hotel at about 9:00 am on his motorcycle, the primary mode of transportation for those lucky enough to afford one. (Most folks use the public bus system; only the wealthiest of Nepalis own personal vehicles.) He was followed by a taxi which he’d flagged down in order to transport me and my belongings to his home. I felt like a western glutton with my two huge bags plus camera and laptop. One bag held my trekking gear; the other held my town clothes, yet my two bags look like a study in excess compared to what these fine people have. And relative to many, if not most Nepalis, Kalyan’s brother Tara and sister-in-law Chandu are not poor. Yet relative to most Americans, they are indeed living in poverty. They live in a humble but clean abode: a diminutive living room with a bed that also serves as a couch, where father and elder daughter sleep; a bedroom in which mother, baby and niece (and now me too) sleep; a tiny kitchen with a gas cooktop on the counter on which they do all of their meal prep, plus heat their water for bathing and laundry; a bathroom in which the water sometimes flows, but in which basins are filled for the times when it doesn’t. My bedroom / bath and closet at home are probably thrice the size of their entire home. It makes me feel greedy, selfish, and gluttonous to live in the manner in which I do when I see what these people have, and even more so in comparison to the mountain village and nomadic people I met on the trail.

Tara and Chandu are amazingly kind people and I feel honored that they have welcomed me to their home. They are practically bending over backward to ensure that I am happy, comfortable, and well-fed. And they and the (HUGE) extended family made me an honorary member of the family during the most important day of the most important festival of the year: the first day of Dashain, which is the equivalent of Christmas in America as far as importance. On this day, elders bestow prayers of blessing and gifts on the younger, primarily gifts of money. As an honorary elder member of the family, I was asked to bestow gifts, too, a request to which I happily complied. It ended up being rather costly, as I was the elder of just about everyone present, including all five of the Gurung brothers and their wives and cousins and all of their respective children. There must have been at least 25-30 people upon whom I bestowed blessings of about 500-600 rupees each (an amount suggested to me by one of Kalyan’s brothers), but I did so gladly. The tradition is quite touching, actually: elders sit on the floor before the younger family members and place tika on their forehead as they pray a prayer of blessing. (In Nepal, the tika is a sign of blessing placed on the forehead. It is a pasty mixture of of abir, a red powder, and yogurt and grains of rice.) I prayed the same prayer to all, and I'm sure that not a one understood: "I wish you joy, I wish you peace, I wish you love." And to the children, I added, "I wish you an education." After the application of tika, the elder bestows a monetary gift wrapped around a marigold and blades of some sort of grass. I don't know the significance of the marigold, nor the grass, but it's sweet, nonetheless. The younger then bows toward the elder's feet and "namaste's" are exchanged. Afterward, the girls put the marigolds and grass in their hair, and the boys put them behind their ears. I look forward to doing some research to learn the symbolism behind these traditions. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Today is My Birthday and I'm on Top of the World!

Or close to it, anyway. By tomorrow I will be within sight of Mt. Everest, and will remain so for the remainder of my mountain trek.

Already, in only three days of trekking, I am having a most amazing time! Alas, the cost and limitations of data roaming make it impractical for me to enter a lengthy blog post, and today I will hike out of range anyway. But I have been journaling the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, and I will share with you when this portion of my adventure is passed and I return to modern civilization.

Just know that I am loving life and I am so happy I could burst! I am in excellent and capable hands with my guide and cooks and sherpas/porters. And today, here in Nepal, I awake to my 53rd birthday (tomorrow in the USA), camped on a mountain with an incredible view, listening to falcons calling and a stream tumbling and tripping over the rocks, and I am extremely grateful to be alive!!! I am in my happy place in body, mind, and spirit, and I carry my loved ones with me in the deepest places in my heart.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Livin' Large and Flyin' High...

Tomorrow is my last full day here at Sadhana Yoga Retreat in Pokhara Nepal. It has truly been an amazing and positive experience in every way. I have learned so much about yoga, and I have fallen in love with the practice---so much so that I intend to pursue it with a dedicated earnestness. When I have been practicing for another couple of years and am able to overcome the stiffness in some of my joints, I intend to return to the far east once again, next time India, and study yoga for a few months. It is a marvelous practice!

I have also let go of just a bit more grief while gaining just a bit more acceptance. I have shed many a tear here, as I have for the past five years of my life, but I accept each tear as part of my cleansing and healing journey, and the meditation part of yoga has helped immensely. Also, the eastern philosophies of letting go of the past have proven extremely valuable to me. As I have heard said time and again,"Past is past," and my focus must be to move forward. I will always carry my son and my grandson with me, but they are part of my past and to a certain degree, I must let them go in order to move forward. I will carry my positive memories of them forever in my heart, but I cannot dwell on the pain of loss. It serves no purpose and only brings me harm. Moving forward with positivity, hope and gratitude is a conscious decision I must make every day, because it would be (and indeed often has been) far too easy to to let my grief and sense of loss carry me away to places no one should go. So with each new day I take a few moments to remember, then I resolve to make the most of the new opportunities and lessons that lay before me.

Speaking of new opportunities, yesterday I went on a fun little adventure a few thousand feet above the earth: Paragliding! Fortunately for me, Pokhara Nepal is known as the paragliding capital of the world (at least according to my guide), so what better place than here for me to enjoy my first paragliding adventure?!?!  Just in case you are not familiar with paragliding (I wasn't), here is a Wikipedia quote:

"Paragliding is the recreational and competitive adventure sport of flying paragliders: lightweight, free-flying, foot-launched glider aircraft with no rigid primary structure.[1] The pilot sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing comprising a large number of interconnected baffled cells. Wing shape is maintained by the suspension lines, the pressure of air entering vents in the front of the wing, and the aerodynamic forces of the air flowing over the outside.
Despite not using an engine, paragliders flight can last many hours and cover many hundreds of kilometers, though flights of one to two hours and covering some tens of kilometers are more the norm. By skilful exploitation of sources of lift, the pilot may gain height, often climbing to altitudes of a few thousand meters."
Paragliding takes advantage of wind currents to keep fliers aloft, just as an eagle or a hawk does as it soars above the earth. Indeed, I was flying high above such great birds during my flight, and it was truly marvelous! Also quite the adrenaline rush when my pilot began performing stunts with me in tandem. Too many more stunts, though, and we'd both have been wearing my breakfast! The heart and mind were totally willing but the stomach was about to revolt!.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Making my Favorite Traditional Nepali Dish: Momo (Basically, What We in the West Might Call "Potstickers")

I’m trying to sit cross-legged as I write this, because I have discovered these past weeks that, like many westerners, my hip joints are as tight as a drum…but mine are even tighter than average! I’ve known this for a long time, and it gave me a lot of trouble in my tae kwon do days but, I wasn’t motivated enough to do anything about it then. I am now, because this limited flexibility is so frustrating!

I have discovered that many of the most basic (and beneficial) yogic poses mimic natural movements Eastern people perform in their everyday tasks: weeding, separating rice, making bread, washing dishes in a basin on the ground, defecating, even playing board games in the street, etc. They do all of this in a crouch or squat, feet flat on the ground. Take a minute and try it. Just squat, right now, while keeping your entire foot---including heel--- planted on the floor. How low can you go? Not very, I’ll wager. I’m terrible. And it has affected me in ways I no longer will tolerate. Tae kwon do was an example, but even simple tasks like fetching John’s pacifier out from under the hutch, or squatting down to pick up a 50-pound box of clay, have revealed to me just how diminished my flexibility has become. And I know that increasing it will keep me more mobile and independent in my later years, as well as increasing my performance in activities I currently pursue today. If I could go home and encourage my family to change just one thing, it would be to live in such a way as to keep their bodies strong, flexible, and supple. In other words, I would (and will) encourage them---and YOU--- to do yoga several times a week in addition to their current cardio and resistance training. Think about it: I’m sure you’ve seen elderly people who are utterly unable to bend  over and pick up something they may have dropped, or even to plug in an electrical device or whatever. I don’t want to be such a person. I want to leave this earth while still wearing my hiking boots or dancing shoes!

Yesterday I persuaded the staff to teach us to make momos (steamed dumplings), and today I’ll share what I’ve learned with you. Note that this is a vegetarian version, as Sadhana adheres to the practices of a yogic lifestyle, which does not include the consumption of meat. I had some chicken momos in town, and they were delicious! I also had some buff momos (water buffalo), and they were pretty good too. When I get home I will experiment with my own variations, because I love the simple and versatile concept.

First, finely chop about half a head of cabbage and 2-3 good-sized carrots. Add some finely chopped garlic and scallions or any other type of onion you have on hand. (In looking at several online recipes, it appears that the measurements, after chopping, of each of the cabbage, carrot and onion is about equal. Garlic is to taste.)

Now chop it some more because it isn’t fine enough! We’re talking super fine pieces! These folks, obviously, chopped everything by hand, but I’ll be using my own personal soux chef, my good old Cuisinart food processor. Add some finely chopped fresh ginger and you have your vegetarian momo mixture, minus a few extra seasonings to come.

Swabhiman handles the garlic while PK shows off some amazing knife skills

PK shows how finely chopped the fresh ingredients should be

Now heat a heavy skillet. Here they use sunflower oil for everything, but any high-heat oil would probably suffice. Get the oil nice and hot, and when it begins to release a hint of smoke throw in a handful of cumin seeds, and sauté for a minute. Add the prepared veggie mixture plus salt and turmeric to taste. Add seasonings as you like: in addition to the cumin and turmeric, the folks here at Sadhana use coriander and chili. Experiment! Have fun!

To make the dumpling pastry, just mix water and flour to form a pliable but not sticky dough. Knead until of uniform consistency, then roll very thin. Cut circles with an inverted cup, about 3-4" across. Fill with a dollop of momo filling and pinch edges together. This is the tricky part! There are probably numerous Youtube videos to guide you in this process. Just have fun with it!

Sarmila is a momo-artist!
If you want to read a post about making momo that is far better than anything I could produce here, check this out: 

How to Make Momo

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Life Begins Where Fear Ends...(i.e.,I'm Not Getting Any Younger So I'm Going For It With Gusto!)

I’m so very sleepy, but my body has called in a new day, despite my most vehement protestations. I want to sleep some more!!!!! It’s only 4:30 am and I have been up for an hour already. This has happened the past few days, too, so rather than fight it I will use the time to indulge in a favored creative outlet: writing.

Prior to my trip, I debated the merits of staying connected. I felt that maybe it would be best to disconnect and focus solely on my yoga retreat, which is precisely what I did initially, as you’ll have noticed by how long it took me to post my first blog posts from Pokhara. After I settled into a routine, however, I asked myself why I should refrain from writing of my experiences and really came to no good conclusion. After all, I love to write, and believe it or not, I feel that doing so actually enhances my experiences. It serves to solidify them in my mind, as well as to promote deeper reflection about what my experiences mean to me. And so, I write. I write mostly for me, but while I’m at it I can share with you. And if you happen to enjoy reading about my adventures, well then we all win.

Currently I am doing about three hours of meditation per day and three hours of yoga. Three hours of meditation can be really hard, as I tend to get antsy. But I have discovered a profound passion for yoga, despite my recent tongue-in- cheek post, and I could actually do more! And indeed, starting today, I will! I intend to add an additional hour per day of self-guided yoga, now that I am beginning to know what I am doing. I love the stretches and the challenge of maintaining a posture despite the discomfort. I love watching my body become more supple and my flexibility increase with each passing day. I don’t measure myself against anyone but myself (except, perhaps, for the beautiful creature who floated in here a few days ago : Erica, who has enchanted everyone here with her beauty, grace, and most importantly of all, her quiet charm. She is everything I am not, and I adore her! She’s long and lean whereas I am short and not-so-lean; she’s graceful and rather quiet whereas I am loud and boisterous; and she’s young and beautiful with a mind to match! (Erica, I have a couple of handsome young sons in Austin if you'd like to meet them?) She aspires to veterinary science, and I have every confidence that the world is her oyster. There’s something about her that’s special, one can sense it. I joke and say that I am an elephant performing yoga with a gazelle, and at the risk of looking like an ugly duckling next to a swan, I give you a few photos:


Mud bath with Erica and Minoj

Anyway, I digress. As I was saying, I love love love yoga and I am excited to make it a priority when I get home. (Ashley D.---another beautiful gazelle---I’m going to be looking for your guidance upon my return,  sweet girl! ) There is actually a Bikram Yoga facility within easy walking distance of my home. I hope to go at least 3-4 times weekly. I truly believe that yoga is a great workout. I feel it doesn’t stand alone, of course: I believe that cardio and weight-resistance training are important too, but the benefits of yoga are undeniable. Greater flexibility will improve every aspect of my life: tennis, trekking, bicycling and, even more importantly, playing with babies and young kids as we all get older!

I never seem to be able to finish a post in one or even two sittings these days, which is not surprising given the extremely busy schedule I am committed to. I’ve taken a couple of breaks to walk into nearby Pokhara, but for the most part I am eating, sleeping, meditating at least 3 hours per day, doing yoga exercises for about 4 hours or more each day (I am amazed at what I am able to do compared to what I could do when I arrived!), performing the basic tasks of living, and doing it day after day in a rather monastic setting and lifestyle. But I love it! I would go stir crazy, however, without these couple of breaks I’ve taken to visit Pokhara. My most recent foray, which took place the day before yesterday, involved a bit of a mini-adventure (and another item crossed off of my bucket-list): bungee jumping! Whee, what a blast! I LOVE that sort of thing.

The worst part, for me, was walking up the ramp and climbing onto the platform in preparation for the jump. I was questioning my sanity the entire time, so it was with relief that I volunteered to go first, if for no other reason than to stop torturing myself with anxiety. But once the moment came, I jumped without hesitation, placing all of my faith in the equipment and the technicians operating it. The fall happened so quickly that the bungee arrested my fall before I really had a chance to feel afraid. All I felt was exhilaration! I highly recommend it.

Erica and I are suited up and ready...

After the bungee jump I joined some new friends (two ladies from Sadhana, Erica and Simone; plus three Indian fellows we met during the bungee experience) for lunch, and had mo-mo’s (WONDERFUL!), then the gals and I went to a hookah bar and I used a hookah for the first time. I really enjoyed it! And in case you were wondering, there was no funny stuff in the hookah: it was the standard tobacco specially made for hookahs, which is flavored like fruit. We also enjoyed listening to a live Nepali band and dancing. We had every intention of returning to Sadhana that evening, but before long a storm came up and there was no way we were going to trek back to Sadhana in the rain and the complete darkness that fell shortly thereafter, so we found ourselves a room in a guest house for the exorbitant rate of $5.00 US for two (my delightful new Aussie friend Simone from Sadhana stayed with me). 

Simone and I both enjoyed the hookah

Erica enjoys a flaming shot of something-or-other

The next day, Simone and I met Erica for breakfast, then did some further exploration and shopping. I mentioned  to Simone my desire for some new body art in the form of the Om symbol, and Simone told me she’d wanted to get a tattoo, too, so off we went in search of a place to get inked. Hours later, sporting our new tattoos, some gifts for loved ones back home, and some great new memories, we made our way back to Sadhana, where I now sit doing a bit of writing while the world around me sleeps.

When Hari tattooed over my vertebra it was pretty danged painful!!!

If you're ever in Pokhara Nepal and feel the need for some body art, Hari Gurung is your man!!!

Simone loves her first tattoo!

Love love love. I'll explain why I selected this design in a future post.

I like getting up early, but my body’s recent tendency to awake around 3:30 am every day is rather extreme. But it’s a lovely, peaceful time of day, and I love watching the bats on their nightly hunt. I have tried to discover what species of bat they might be, but to no avail. In the darkness I cannot get a good look at them, even though they fly within mere feet of me; and there is little written or studied about bats here in Nepal. I guess they don’t treasure their little flying mammals  as we do in Austin, Texas USA, home of the largest urban bat colony on earth.  (This is about the extent of what I could discover: “Pokhara is a potential habitat for bats of Nepal. There is need of extensive survey of bats in Pokhara Valley. This city can also be developed as potential tourist site for bat watching as large number of caves exists in this valley. A total of 18 species of bats are reported by different author through different publication. These bats belong to 5 families and 11 genera. Of the bats identified, 3 species are fruit bats from the Family Pteropodidae. The remaining 15 species are insectivorous bats, belonging to the following families: Megadermatidae (1), Rhinolophidae (5), Hipposideridae (1) and Vespertilionidae (8).”

Though I cannot get a good look at these creatures, there is no doubt whatsoever that they are considerably larger than the diminutive Mexican Free-tail bats that live in Austin. These Nepalese bats’ wingspans have got to be at least a foot across.  I am fairly certain that the ones I see are insectivores, because they appear to be hunting as I watch, but there are also fruit bats that live here. I love bats and I find them to be fascinating creatures. And any creature that will eat the mosquitoes that feed on me is my friend!

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I am going paragliding, and I am so excited! To be able to sail out over this beautiful Nepali landscape will be a feast for the senses! I just hope I don't awaken at 3:30 for the fifth day in a row. 

Namaste, and Happy Trails!