Returning to Whidbey

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(Post in progress)

Leaving Yaku

It’s odd that when I was traveling to Yaku I felt like I was going home; and now as I’m about to depart for Whidbey, I feel like I’m going home too. It was hard to leave Yaku. It is so beautiful and peaceful there. And I can contribute to that community more than I can Whidbey’s.

I had thought to leave my blog with the post about the computers. That’s what I came to do. Seemed good to leave it at that. But I’m sensing that my trip back to Kathmandu and then home adds context. So here:

Before leaving there has to be a goodbye ceremony:

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This trip I learned to go slow and rest often. So leaving Yaku I walked 3 miles and stayed with a friend, in beautiful neighborhood called Jimmy gown.

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I had a lovely morning watching local folk building a water distribution tank.

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What I like is that working is not so very different from play. There’s lots of banter and jokes and good feelings. No hurry.
You will notice gender roles still have some changing to do. I have come to appreciate that folks have been living perfectly wonderful lives for millennia within cultural norms we find intolerable.

And my hosts,

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who are as local as local could be, have two daughters living in London, a son studying in Japan. And after dinner sitting around the fire, they mentioned that her brother had immigrated to United States. And that his son had joined the American army and had been killed in Afghanistan. Brings home that there is no foreign country. We’re all in this together.

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The next day I walked about 5 miles to Puali, the town where I catch the bus. Yaku is on the south side of a ridge, so you don’t see the Himals. Puali is on top of the ridge at a saddle, the headwaters of two streams, – one flowing south, one north. Splendid views. (The wide angle lens makes the Himals look small & far away. Better than no photo? Sacrilege? )

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I walked this same trail six years ago on my way to the Tumlingtar airstrip. But the road wasn’t here. The electricity wasn’t here. And none of the buildings that you saw in the photo of Puali were here.

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The hole is for septic. And the dish. Shocking. Shocking. The speed of change.

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So, I got this notion that the bus ride from Puali to Pakribas, about 20 miles – 4 hours, would be more enjoyable riding on top of the bus than crammed inside. It was!

You don’t get it because of the camera’s wide angle lens, but on top, the views are breathtaking.

Again, surprising to me how quickly using the new Arun bridge has become “normal”.

Below is a clip of loading a goat. Amazes me how sanguine the goat was, and casual everyone is about loading a goat on top of the bus.

I like how democratic buses are. There’s no first or second class. I’d expected the roads to be used by rich people with cars. Very rare. Like, before busses, if you wanted to go somewhere, you walked. Everyone walked.

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Computers, internet in Yaku

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Six years ago, when I first returned to Yaku, Mohan Dhakal, a teacher, proposed to me that he would help the school get a couple computers if I would fund the project.

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Seemed worthwhile. Up my alley. My best social work has been done with computers. Mohan installed a solar panel, bought two computers, and trained the teachers. Really a big, difficult project. But the computers weren’t very useful. No printer. No video projector. No internet. An inauspicious beginning.

Three years ago when I went back, I loaded up a couple iPads and iPods with the Planet Earth videos, Apollo 11 landing, other videos, a hundred ebooks, and some fun and educational ios apps. And a video projector.

8 minute video showing Yaku

The link above is to the eight minute video that’s on my website that I made after that trip. The last couple minutes show me introducing this stuff to the teachers and then a teacher showing a Planet Earth video to his class.

During the last 3 years the school administration, with Mohan’s help, applied to the Nepal government to be the site of a new computer education program. They were chosen and now have about 30 computers and three dedicated teachers, – government funded. Here’s a short video of class starting.

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Shocking. Just shocking, the rate of change here in Nepal.

And the change is not “just technology”. Meet Manisha Ghimire, a senior teacher in the computer program. Not a traditional role. That’s for sure.

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So, then, as I planned to go to Yaku again, I wondered what I might bring that would be useful. Mohan suggested the school could use a better projector. So I took one. Oh, the technology improves so fast. It’s brilliant, so to speak. And high rez.
Thinking about what else I might take, the Khan Academy videos seemed obvious. I’m a big fan. I had sent a bunch of them on a chip by mail to Mohan. He found them useful.

Here’s Sal Khan’s Ted talk, if you’re not familiar.

Salman Khan’s Ted Talk

I looked for a way to take these videos, and other educational material in a way that all the students and teachers could use effectively. I learned a long time ago that sharing computers is like sharing tooth brushes. Doesn’t really work. So, how can every student have her own Khan Academy?

Android tablets are getting really cheap. Some are under $100. That’s still an awful lot in Nepal. But they will get cheaper. Well, I thought it worthwhile to take a bunch so the teachers and students can try them. If they are as useful as I think they will be, they’ll get their own. Nepali’s invest a lot in Education. Above almost all else.

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A crucial advantage of some android tablets is that a microSD chip can be installed. The little chip in the picture has about 2000 Khan videos – teaching math from 1+1=2 thru differential equations; and physics, biology & chemistry through high school; with 4GB free for other educational materials. These chips can be swapped between tablets and computers and files added. Students can take them home. Don’t have to have internet. Elegant.

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But the tablets aren’t of any value if there is not someone at the school who has a passion for learning and teaching how they work. Mohan is at another school. Oh my, was I so happy to meet Ramesh Thapa, 21, a recent addition to the Computer Training Program.

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In a day he was doing magnitudes more with these little tablets than I had learned in a month. And teaching others. Anyone who wants to learn. Like this:

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The day after Ramesh got the Android Tablet, he’d downloaded dozens of educational documents, some from a Nepali educational website, written in Nepali.

Now, the tablets can be loaded with educational materials with the microSD chips, but if students can use them to access the internet themselves, learning opportunities magnify again.

Internet in Yaku has been sporadic and slow. Connected to 2G cell phones, mostly. But that’s changing too.

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Meet Navaraj Shresta, a Social Studies teacher who last year took it on himself to bring the newly available WiMAX internet data service by Nepal Telecom to Yaku. It wasn’t easy. Didn’t just flip a switch.

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That little white box on the top of the pole above the house gets the WiMAX signal sent from across the Arun River and resends it down to the school. Here’s the wiring in the house.

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Talk about miracles. It works. I used this internet system to email and blog and skype for a month. Intermittent and slow, but worked. And, for me, this is another opportunity to be useful. A small investment can upgrade the system appreciably, increasing speed and reliability. Oh, then, internet usefulness increases again by many factors.

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The Village Engineer

If you are new to this blog, it will make more sense if you click on “Menu”, at the top, then read the page “About this blog” .

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This is the village engineer showing me the transit he used to survey the local road he supervised building. It’s a 10 mile loop from the main road, built for busses and trucks, to Yaku School, and back to the main road. The local road is built for tractors and 4wd. And motorcycles. How these roads survive and are passable during the monsoon I can’t imagine. Here are a couple challenging bits, – there are many such, and then a picture of the vehicle the road is built for.

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The engineer is paid by the government. The government funded the building of the road. They released the funds when the villagers agreed on the route, and he had it surveyed.
This went on during the Maoist insurgency. Go figure.

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He also designed and supervised the building of the water system. Brings water from nearly a mile away and stores it in this tank. It works. I’ve been drinking the water. Not sick. That’s different.

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Of course the protected water source is just part of the story. The septic tanks at most of the homes are the other. These things were quite unimaginable 40 years ago. Then, people went to the bathroom in the fields. The ground water, and the people, hosted bacteria, viruses and bigger parasites.

Here’s a septic that didn’t perk. Will be filled in.

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The police station and elections

This is the police station. Just above the school. About a dozen men. They are usually out on patrol. I’d hoped to catch a group picture, but no luck.

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The previous police station was burned down by the Moaists. The Maoists blew up the station in the next village; robbed a bank in Dhankuta, – shot someone. They “extorted”, they would say, “taxed” the rich people in Yaku. They came to homes with guns and demanded rice, … I’m not sure what else. They targeted families actively supporting the government. No one in Yaku was actually hurt, I’m told.

Now, the Police are back. A strong presence. Lots of community involvement. There’s an officer who cuts villagers hair, excellently, for free. Their main intervention since the end of hostilities has been dealing with alcohol induced violence.

As you see, very low key. No machismo; no show of weapons; no intimidation. But, I’m sure, very effective. The post chief described a murder investigation and arrest, at his previous post, matter of fact, detailed.

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Here’s some reflections on what I learned about the recent election. Just words.

It appears that Nepal has successfully negotiated the transition from their Maoist revolution to a working democratic government. The recent election was, by all accounts, – that is, everyone I’ve talked with, successful. The Maoists won the first election, but then couldn’t govern because they splintered into three groups. One of those was old style anti democratic, and tried to disrupt the recent election by threatening to attack vehicles that moved around the time of the elections. They did burn some busses and cars. I was surprised that more than 60% of registered voters voted. I’m still trying to understand how so many people were able and willing to go to their home villages and vote when for a week before the election virtually all transportation stopped. Including airplanes.

And nearly everyone I speak with seems solidly optimistic. That ‘s a big change. Of course, there’s optimism just after an election, but I do think Nepal is on it’s way to a stable, functioning democracy, rather than a failed state, as many of us feared.

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The village mill

The first video below is of the village mill. It’s diesel, and again, not charming, but women used to spend many hours husking rice, as seen in the 2nd video. What they are making is rice flower for pastry, for a puja or wedding. Rice flower can be ground at the mill, but for small amounts, they do it the old way.

The diesel engine is running an oil press in this video. Mustard seed oil is the main cooking oil.
He has to changes the belt to the rice husker when they husk rice.

The mill was built about 15 years ago. The current owner bought it 6 years ago and has been making improvements, like the oil press.

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I used to wake to the rhythm of many of these huskers, 40 years ago. Every house had one, and husking rice for the day’s meals was often the women’s first morning chore.

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The Health center

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They call it a hospital, but they don’t do surgery, set broken bones or serious illnesses. They transport those by 4wd to a hospital in Dharan, about 30 miles. They have to call for transport, and it’s not free, though there is a fund for the poor. There’s a Doctor, a nurse practitioner, and several assistants. Perhaps their primary work is education: clean water, hygiene, sanitation, hydration for diaria. But they have quite a lot of free medications, including antibiotics. Services are free. Staff is paid by the government. They are building a new building funded by local donations. The government pays women to come for prenatal checkups, and for delivering at the health post. All this is amazing.
40 years ago, there was a health post. One man. A small building. No medicines. And no one came. One of the most dejected people I ever met was a British Doctor in Dhankuta, a Bazar a day’s walk from Yaku, who worked for 3 years to convince women to hydrate their children when they had dysentery, without, he thought, a single success. Simple knowledge makes a big change in child mortality. Not a problem now.

The pictures are of the center, new construction, and a recent delivery being transported and accompanied by about 20 family and friends.
Every day I see one or several people being brought to the post on stretchers by family.

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I’m adding to this post some more photos.

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Traditional Village life in Yaku

Morning Chores

Here is the mother of the Telecommunications engineer you met in my 2nd post, – doing morning chores. She thought it funny that I would video her. But if you think about it, she would find it interesting to see us vacuuming the house, or mowing the lawn.
At the end of the first clip she says: show this to my son; clearly implying that the mother of a successful engineer shouldn’t have to work so hard.

Then,
Breakfast

Here is the proprietor of the tea shop where I’ve been staying serving breakfast to her grand daughter and a friend.

And here is my breakfast. “Dal bhat”, – lentils and rice. Odd how after eating this twice a day for two years, 40 years ago, this has, ever since, seemed like “real” food”.

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And a fellow rethatching his roof.

So, much of this blog is about all the changes I’m seeing in Yaku, so I wanted to show that the traditional rural life continues. Hence this post. But even as folks here practice the traditional ways, they know those are going away. My remark, sitting on the floor in a traditional home eating dal bhat that in twenty years this will not exit, receives only agreement. They are not unhappy about it. They prefer the new ways. The sooner the better. I’m afraid I see the skill and value of the old ways more than they. The clay pots of the village potter, that I loved to watch throw and fire, are replaced by plastic and aluminum. They don’t miss them. Heavy and broke easily.

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