Posts Tagged ‘KICC’

Elephants, Rhinos and Crocodiles

Friday, March 27th, 2009

19. March
The medicine against my amoebas has not presented any side effects so far, for which I am very grateful! I had a pizza night with the teenagers at KICC on Saturday. 11 people had said they’d come for sure, 5 that they might show up. We were 25! It was a great evening, and I had six people say they’d like to organize the next Social! For this I am very grateful. The bandh in the Terai area ended on Sunday, and I got the opportunity to go to Chitwan National Park after all! For this I am immensely grateful! 😀 😀

On Monday I got up at 5am, to go take the bus. The bus left at 7am, and we arrived in time for lunch at around 1pm. After lunch, we walked around the village, looking at how the Theru people still live in a very traditional environment, albeit with some modern improvements (and drawbacks) to their lifestyles. The most obvious improvement was tin roofs on some of the houses, instead of the thatch, which leaks and needs changing very often. The most obvious drawback was the everpresent non-biodegradable garbage.

After dinner, there was a dance show, where a local group of men(!) danced traditional dances.

On Tuesday I got up early as well, at 6.30am, and immediately after breakfast, I headed off ride an elephant into the park proper to look for wild animals. We saw a couple of really big deer, but all in all it was a disappointingly devoid of life. Riding an elephant was awesome, but even more awesome was bathing with them! Wearing our bathing shorts, me and one of the French guys who were also doing the elephant ride at the same time got on an elephant without a saddle, and it walked into the river. The mahout (rider) got him to shake us off. When we were getting back on, we stood right in front of the elephant and stretched up. The elephent let his head down so we could grab his ears and stand on his trunk, and then he lifted us up on his back! 😀 When we were on his back, he continuously splashed us with water from his trunk, and eventually the mahout made him lie down on his side to be scrubbed. 🙂 It seemed a bit brutal when the mahout slapped the animal with a stick when it didn’t pay attention, but apparently their hide is so thick that it’s the sound, not the pain, that gets their attention to the mahout’s shouted commands.

After the swimming there was lunch, and and after lunch I decided to take another elephant ride, this time in the so called Community Forests that surround the park. My guide told me that we were almost guaranteed to see rhinos there, because it was a rather small habitat, with a population of about 20 rhinos. In the north side of the park, the water holes were filled in with silt, by a flood 15 years ago. After that the rhinos migrated south to the other water holes, or north to the community forests. The water holes in the community forests were also destroyed by the flood, but since it’s not protected, the local community dug them out again. In the park, ironically, that’s not legal, and thus there is less wildlife… When we came to get an elephant (me and the guide, the French guys, who were the ones who had insisted on going to the park proper that morning, didn’t want to come) the elephants were all busy. We considered waiting, but the schedule for the day being rather packed, there was no time to wait, so we decided to go on foot.

Not long after entering the community forest, we smelled fresh rhino dung, saw tracks so fresh that water was still seeping into them, and trees with their lower trunks covered in mud where the rhinos had rubbed up against them. A few minutes after that, we found the first rhinoceros unicornis (one-horned rhino) in a clearing. There was an elephant nearby, that we had allied ourselves with for protection, and we called them over. We got closer and closer to the rhino, with the elephant between us and it. Soon we were less than ten meters away from this massive, wild rhino bull, when the mahout on the elephant says he’s spotted one more. “No, wait TWO more in the bushes!” One of the ones in the bushes came out, and we could see the last one standing in the shadows, looking at us.

Suddenly the second rhino looks like he’s about to charge us, and we sprint behind the elephant, while throwing sticks at the rhino to make him think twice. The mahout charges the elephant toward the rhino to deterr it from attacking us. He successfully chases it away, but that leaves the two of us vulnerable from the other two, so we leg it out of there before we get completely surrounded! Not thirty seconds later, my guide spots another rhino in the dense undergrowth of the jungle, and the elephant is once more called in as a body guard. We reach the next waterhole, where two grown rhinos are wallowing in the mud, a mother with calf is grazing, and two more adults come out of the brush opposite from where we are! Again the situation suddenly goes from interesting to dangerous, and we decide that it’s time to get out of there before we’re surrounded!
On less than an hour’s walk through the community forest, I saw a total of ten rhinos, and the guide saw eleven!

Immediately after the intense jungle walk, we headed over to the river to go canoeing. The canoe was a hollowed out log, and we were seven people in it, including the guide and the guy poleing us down the gentle stream. The first croc we saw was submerged, with only it’s nose and eyes sticking out of the crystal clear water. Soon after we got ashore to look at another great big rhino bull, this time from a safer distance. Back in the canoe we saw a half dozen more crocs, before we reached the place where we got out to go to an elephant breeding centre. In november one of the elephants had twins, according to the guide the only time such an event has happened! One of the older elephant calves was very curious, and being no bigger than a pony, he wasn’t tied up, so he walked over to everyone and smelled their stuff, and tried to take the things that smelled good! 😀 He was about one year old, but a bit sickly, so he was smaller than the other one year olds. When a tame elephant gets pregnant, it takes 2-3 years before it can work again, so wild elephant bulls mating with the tame cows is actually quite a problem! It is also very expensive, and takes a lot of work to raise and train an elephant. The training can’t start before the elephant is about 2-3 years old, and it can’t do any work until it’s about ten. Between the age of 16 and 18 they reach maturity and become able to breed.

We were picked up at the breeding centre by a jeep from the resort, and in  the sunset on our way back, we saw another group of rhinos, and stopped. It turned out to be a group of five, led by a huge bull. I got some awesome pictures, and ended up having seen 16 rhinos in one day!

Wednesday Morning I got up at 5.30am, for an hour and a half of bird spotting, before breakfast and the bus ride home. I was home at 3.45pm, and at four I met up with some of the Norwegians for a going-away-dinner. Immediately after dinner, we had a final meeting between me and the church board, and I was given a very nice letter of thank you for the work I’d done. This morning I was up at 4am, to do some laundry while there was electricity… I went back to bed at five, however, and slept till seven thirty. I packed, returned the bicycle I’ve been borrowing, and then one of my “bosses” was very kind and drove me to the airport. It’s been great, and Ive felt very welcome in the community of expats in Kathmandu. 😀

It is now just past midnight, I am in New Delhi, and will soon be boarding my flight to Bangkok. I’ve been upgraded to first class on this flight, so I might actually look forward to some sleep tonigh, which is more than I expected. The flight leaves at 1am Indian time, and arrives four and a half hours later, at 7am Thai time. There I will wait nine hours before I fly the last hour and a half to Ho Chi Minh City.

20 March

13 hours later… I am waiting for my flight to Ho Chi Minh, boarding starts in 50 minutes. The plane saved up a good half an hour on the flight to Bangkok, so I arrived before 6.30am. First class was brilliant, but I still didn’t fall asleep before we had started the descent, and woke with a start as we touched down. I’ve slept about 5 minutes in the past thirty hours. I tried to lie down for a bit on a row of seats here at the airport, but the world was spinning so bad I started to get nauseated, so I dropped it. I guess I’ll sleep like a baby before we take off from Bangkok…
When I got here, I went directly to the transfer station, at the other end of the airport. There I was told I had to pick up my luggage myself, which meant going through immigration in Thailand. Baggage claim was of course at the end of the airport where I’d arrived, so I walked back. Immigration, which was almost deserted when I arrived, was by then crowded to the point of bursting. By the time I got my luggage it was 9 o’clock, and I headed directly for check in, so I could go back through customs and immigration, and find a place to crash. The problem was that it was too early, check in for my  flight didn’t start till 12, so I had to hang around for three hours. When I finally got to check in, the woman at the counter started asking for some letter from Vietnam that she meant I had to have to get into the country, but I’ve double checked that I, as a Norwegian citizen, don’t need that letter unless I’m staying in Vietnam for more than 30 days. I guess I was pretty convincing, in my rather reduced and sleep deprived state, because she then proceeded to check me in. By the time I got back to the place I’d been at 6.45am, it was 1pm. I can’t fall asleep now, because then I suspect I will oversleep the boarding call, even though I’m sitting right next to the gate. I decided to write this in order to stay awake, so bear with me if I’m not making any sense. 😉

I sincerely hope they won’t make any trouble at the airport in Saigon, and claim like the clerk here that I need some extra letter, because I’m so worn out I’m not sure I’ll be able to explain that I’m Norwegian, and don’t need their stupid piece of paper! 😮

I also hope Annikken is not as beat as I am, because then finding a hotel to stay until I can check for answers from the CS’ers I have sent couch requests to might prove to be a daunting task… 😛 (By the time you read this, things will probably be in order, though, and I have slept enough to be coherent again)

I miss…

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Settling down here in Kathmandu for a little while has been great, and it has given me time to miss things. When I’m travelling from place to place every few days, there’s not really any time to miss anything. Now that I’ve been here for over a month, I’ve started to realize that I miss things, and thiss is, believe it or not, not necessarily a bad feeling! 🙂

I miss friends and family, I miss work, I miss the ocean, I miss ice skating, I miss role playing games and board games, I miss clean air, I miss a good bicycle, I miss round-the-clock electricity and internet access, and the weirdest little things that pop into my mind every once in a while. I also miss travelling, and I am looking forward to moving on again. The funny thing is that not all the things I miss are things I would like to go back to right away. At the international church on Sunday, the headmaster (mistress?) of Kathmandu International Study Centre was doing the sermon. The congregation is, as I’ve mentioned before, made up mostly of expats, and she was talking about missing things back home in our own countries, while at the same time wanting to stay here. The reason she brought it up, was as a comparison to how she felt as a Christian, being drawn between a longing for the perfect existence with God when this world kicks it, and wanting to live life here and now as much as possible, for as long as possible!

I found it a good comparison. I guess I can make the same comparison with my journey. I long for being back home, but I want to make the journey there as long and enjoyable as possible. (Do not take this parable any further. Norway is NOT heaven, and I don’t feel as if my journey is comparable to “walking through the valley of the shadow of death”… 😛 )

On a more day-to-day update, my week is not very busy. I have choir practice on Monday nights, even though I won’t be here for the concert at the end of the semester. Tuesday afternoons we plan the youth group (Sparx) the coming Sunday, and on Tuesday evening I meet some other Norwegians who have a prayer group. Wednesday to Saturday I fill with socializing, reading, and planning what to do with the youth work, and Sunday sees me at service in the morning and Sparx in the afternoon. When the board here gets it report, I think I will suggest that if they hire a permanent youth worker, they go for part time, two or three days a week. I am meeting a couple of the board members tomorrow night, to evaluate the stay so far. 🙂

Kathmandu International Christian Congregation

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Jan 25
As of today, I am officially a youth worker in KICC, Kathmandu’s interdenominational church for expats. The Pastor went on a two month sabbatical last Sunday, and I am living in his house. It is a rather big house, at least for one person. There’s a hall, a big kitchen and living room on the ground floor, my bedroom, a terrace and the pastor and wife’s private quarters on the first floor, and two roof top terraces on the second floor. I have solar heated water, so hot showers are available in the afternoon. The battery backup for electricity is broken, so my daily schedule depends largely on the load shedding schedule. According to the church board members, the house has internet, but I have of yet not found out how to connect. I suspect the router is in the pastor’s locked off study. Some board members have said they’ll email the pastor to find out if there’s a way for me to get online at home and one of the other Norwegians in the congregation has offered to try and fix the electricity backup.

On Tuesday, I met with three of the board members for a job interview, and they seemed impressed. I apparently have quite a lot more education and experience in youth work than they expected. On Wednesday I moved into the pastor’s house, on Thursday I had breakfast with a Norwegian family, before familiarizing myself a little witht the area, getting a visa extension, and doing some necessary shopping. Friday I spent proof reading a field report for the couchsurfer I stayed with last week, in return for which he gave me a ticket for a “mountain flight”, which is a very popular way of seeing the Himalayas from a different angle; from a small airplane! Yesterday I went with some other Norwegians here to do some fabric shopping (I got a good price on linen for two pairs of trousers for warmer weather, which I’ll take to a local tailor)and an English language movie at a café. (Vicky Christina Barcelona, a quintessencial Woody Allen) After the movie, we went to a restaurant, and then over for tea at another Norwegian expat’s flat late in the evening. After church this morning I met some friends of my sister Anne Malene, from the school that’s sent her to Brazil (en hilsen fra Hald-studentene til deg, Anne Malene!) and then I spoke to some of the teenagers about organizing a brainstorm on what they think will be  a good idea for the first step in furthering the youth work, and then there was a pot luck lunch with the church board, where I told them about myself, and what I think I can do to further the youth work in the congregation. The result was that I got the final go ahead, and money back for the 60 day visa extension I bought on Thursday.

I’m quickly getting used to bottling water from the electric filter and refilling the rooftop watertank with the electric pump for a few minutes when there is power, soaking all fruit and vegetables I’m planning to eat raw in iodine-water, wearing a mask to filter away most of the dust when I’m out walking (or from today, bicycling, as I’m now borrowing a mountainbike from the Dutch bursar on the church board) and all the other little peculiarities of Kathmandu life. There are some things, however, that I’m not sure I’ll get used to. Yesterday, as I was standing on the street waiting for the people I was going to see the movie with, a goat was slaughtered right there on the pavement across the street. It was tethered to the little shack that serves as the local meat market, and had it’s head chopped off in one mighty blow with a Khukri, the famous large, curved knife of the Gurkha warriors. Then it was held down by two people, and the blood coming out of the neck was gathered in a bucket. I was picked up before I got to witness the rest of the process, but judging from the carcass that was lying on a sheet next to it, the next parts of the process would be burning off the fur, and cutting off the hoofs. (feet? trotters?)

Incidentally, I walk past the headquarters of the Gurkhas whenever I’m going to the nearest supermarket… The Gurkha warriors are a fierce special force, handpicked from a throng of applicants that go through what are some of the world’s most extreme and rigorous tests. The soldiers are Nepali, but they are part of the British armed forces(!) Popular legend says that the best applicants will finish a footrace even if they break a leg on the way, because a Gurkha is not supposed to be hampered by such minor inconveniences.

Steak and beer under the stars

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Jan 15

Yesterday I went to Kathmandu, and visited the Swayambhunath temple with Sujan, who’s been with me for three days. He’s studying computer science in Kathmandu, but has a few days off, and is visiting with his uncle, Milan. We got a wonderful view of all of Kathmandu, at least as far as the cloud of fog, dust and smog allowed.  At Milan’s office I got online long enough to upload my last couple of posts, and then we went home to Bhaktapur for the festival feast. The food was phenomenal, with fried chicken, spicy potatoes, something that tasted exactly like grandma’s Norwegian donuts, but were looped into the frying oil so the circles (they call it circle bread) were about 15cm across. There were little balls of sweet seeds, balls of candied, puffed rice, and different kinds of yams. All family members in the valley seemed to be there, and we had a great time.

Before we headed off that morning, however, I got a view into Nepali culture that I hadn’t expected. Milan’s wife had invited some friends over, and the occasion was the first meeting between a prospective bride and groom! I was introduced to both parties, in separate rooms. First there was the girl, and with her were the boy’s parents. In the other room was the eligible bachelor, and the girl’s guardian. They were interviewing the candidates. Milan told me that the next step, after we left, would be the introduction of the candidates. Milan’s wife, as the part who knew both of them, would introduce them by name, what they were doing (the girl was a student, the boy a high level police officer) and so forth. Then the girl and boy would first talk about their families, to find out wether they were related. If they were, marriage would obviously be out of the question. Next, they’d spend some time just chatting informally, and then the meeting would be over. The boy and girl would then decide whether they were interested. If they weren’t, it would’ve just been a nice and exciting occasion, and they’d be introduced to other people later. If they were still interested, the boy would invite the girl and her parents to his parents’ home, and they’d set a date for the wedding!

This morning I got up, had my morning daal bhaat (lentil soup and rice) and Milan followed me to the bus station in Kathmandu. All the time I’ve stayed with him, he’s not allowed me to pay for my own bus fare, or chip in on the food budget, and now he bargained for the bus ticket for me. The driver seemed a bit disappointed when I came from a shop nearby, and turned out to be the one who was paying the locals’ price on the bus… 😉 Approx 28 NOK for a seven hour, 206 km bus ride…

I arrived in Pokhara a few hours ago, and I’ve just had a wonderful steak dinner. It was a bit more expensive than I’ve been eating lately, but I decided it was worth it, and it was… 😀 I’m sitting in a restaurant on a balcony one floor above the street, and the slight chill in the air, like a Norwegian summer’s night, is dispelled by the fire in the outdoor fireplace (read: a half barrel with a chimney) right behind me. When I ordered the grilled steak, the waiter asked me whether I wanted my steak well done, medium or rare. I replied truthfully that if it was safe, I’d have it rare. The waiter hesitated, looking almost a bit hurt, then proceeded to confirm that I wanted my steak medium… 🙂

I had a phone call a couple of hours ago, from one of the Norwegians I met in church on Sunday. She might have a job for me… The job is, as far as I understand, with youth in Kathmandu International Christian Congregation. They don’t have any youth work as it stands today, but they want to start a social scene for Christian youth. She said they’d be having a meeting tonight, and if I was not completely uninterested, she’d discuss the opportunity with the other chair members. It would be voluntary work, but with board and lodging included. I said it’s not out of the question, but I need a few days to decide. I also said that if it becomes a reality, the time I’d have available woulde be up to three-four months. I ask those of you who pray, to pray with me on the matter, and help me find out whether this is God’s will, or just a crazy idea!

Tomorrow I’m planning to look around Pokhara and relax after a tiresome bus journey today, and then I’ll head up into the mountains the next day. I’d like to have taken a longer trek, but this is what my visa allows me. (or so I keep telling myself, to avoid the fact that I’ve  grown lazy) When I come back, I’ll stay one more night before heading to Chitwan, and a tropic climate.

Temples, cremations and festivals

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

As I am writing this, I still haven’t had the opportunity to  upload my last post, so I guess both will be posted simultaneously.

On Saturday I googled churches in Kathmandu, and I got several hits. I chose KICC, Kathmandu International Christian Congregation, and found out where they have their Sunday service. After breakfast on Sunday, I checked out of my hotel room, and took a taxi to the church. It was a very friendly crowd, and lots of people came up to me, asked if I had been in town long, and whether it was my first time there. In the beginning of the service, people who were there for the first time were asked to stand up, and the microphone was passed around so everyone could introduce themselves!

The songs sung during the service were all English hymns that I didn’t know, but it was very nice. Nepal has a serious problem with electricity, and power comes and goes on a set schedule, a “load shedding schedule” in order to keep the grid from breaking down. The “children’s talk” was early on in the  service, and the guy leading the service was talking about how God has no “load shedding schedule”, his power is working everywhere, all the time! 🙂 After the children’s talk, the children left, and went to Sunday school, and the pastor gave a sermon where he was talking about the situation in Gaza, and how to react to the Isreali attacks. His conclusion was that the history of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament shows that the Jews have a special position with God, but they are still held accountable for their acts, and that this is how he  figured we should look at the current situation.

After the service, some Norwegians came up to me, and it turned out I had found the place where the people from both the Norwegian Tibet Mission and Normisjon use to come on Sundays! I got to film some of them, and got a greeting from one of the Norwegian teenagers there to the teenagers in the congregation of Vardeneset back home. I was invited to join some of the younger people there for lunch at a café, and afterwards I went home with a couple of the Norwegians. I got to borrow a Nepali sim card from them, and the Lonely Planet guides to Nepal and to India! I then called up my CouchSurfing host Milan, who lives in Bhaktapur, 15 km from Kathmandu, and I went to meet him. The 15 kilometers here take about an hour by bus, because of traffic and horrible road quality. I have lived with his family for the last couple of nights.

                               His nephew Sujan showed me around Bhaktapur yesterday, and we went to a couple of temples in Kathmandu today. The hindu temple area of Pashupatinath was quite special, as there were pyres along the river there, where they were cremating people. before the cremations, they took the corpse to the river and washed the feet, poured some of the water down the throat of the corpse, and then covered it in an orange shroud, flower petals and some red powder. After the pyre was burned down, they flushed the ashes into the river, where street kids were rummaging through it to search for coins. A little downstream, people were washing their hair, themselves, and their clothes! There were holy cows walking around the temple grounds, and lots and lots of monkeys were playing and chasing each other on the streets, walls and rooftops. If anyone took out any food, the monkeys would follow them around until the food was gone, hoping for some scraps. There were people selling fruit, that was given out in small, black plastic bags, and the monkeys would also follow any black plastic bag around, knowing it might contain a snack coming their way!

                               The second temple we went to was Bodhnath, which is a Tibetan buddhist temple, the only one in the world where Tibetan buddhism is practiced freely, without oppression. The biggest change was that there were pictures of the CURRENT Dalai Lama in the shrines, and it was free of the throngs of military that dominated the monasteries and temples in Tibet… It also has the worlds largest stupa (chörten in Tibetan). There I could pass on some of the things I learned in Tibet to my “guide”, Sujan! 🙂 The chörten is surrounded by prayer wheels, like everywhere in Tibet, all of them inscribed with the holy words “om mani padme hom.” For the first time, I saw white, western buddhists walking around in the red monks’ robes, or prostrating themselves in front of the chörten alongside the Tibetans!

Tomorrow will be a small festival, and Milan has invited me to stay and experience it. It is the first day of a new Nepali month (lunar calendar) and it apparently marks mid winter. It involves a bath, supposed to be taken in cold water, because in a legend, a monkey fell from a tree into the water, had a bath, and came a long way towards enlightenment as a result (or so I gather.) None of the people here will be taking a bath, however, because it is too cold, and Milan and his family has no running hot water. The water they do have is pumped from a well into a tank on the roof, whenever there happens to be electricity for the pump… It will, however, involve a feast with lots of special traditional Nepali food!

Tomorrow I should also book a place to trek from in Pokhara, and go to Kathmandu and give back the books and sim card. From Kathmandu, I’ve gathered that I should go west to Pokhara, for a two or three day hike in the mountains, and then head south to Royal Chitwan National park, where it is much warmer, and I can ride elephants on safari around the park, and see Bengal tigers, rhinos, monkeys, fresh water dolphins, crocodiles and Gharials. (The latter is described as a prehistoric slender beast of an animal, with a long snout full of bad teeth, living on a diet of river fish) From Chitwan I go to the border, and head into India, before my visa runs out on the 23rd. I’m considering taking a round trip of India before I head east, and if so my first stop there might be Agra, but I haven’t quite made up my mind yet.