Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ubud, Bali — Anything You Want!

“Why Bali?” you might be asking. “Why not?” I reply. 

Haven’t we heard about Bali all our lives, from the song “Bali Hai” from the musical South Pacific, to the last third of the book, “Eat, Pray, Love?” I hear about Bali twice a year when I visit my dentist for tooth cleanings. Her surfer brother settled there, married, and will never leave.

On the surface of things I chose Bali after Nepal for a 12 day Permaculture Design Course. At my journey’s outset I had intended to do this in Southern India as part of the International Permaculture Convergence. But a conversation at an organic farm in Nepal gave me second thoughts and I looked into other choices for this course. A tent in India in a field with thrown-together sanitation or ….Bali? Back and forth I went for about two minutes and chose the more exotic and and what I hoped was the more sanitary. And after a week of surveying the eruptive potential of Volcano Agung and noting that the threat was steadily decreasing, I bought the ticket and arrived.  And with a month to enjoy myself before the training began, I started in Ubud.

What is there to do in Bali? 
In this popular tourist and cultural center, Ubud, anything you want!
This entire blog entry should have all been video!!

 Legong Dancing at the Palace.

Watching children learn Legong dancing at the Agung Rai Museum of Art.

And learning instruments in the Gamelan ensemble music.

Water gardens outside Starbucks.

Temple ceremony for which I had to don a sarong, sash and arm covering. And hand-made offerings.

The Monkey Forest: but beware!

One little bugger jumped on my backpack, undid the zipper, plucked out toilet paper and ran up the tree with his findings in about three seconds. One friend got bitten for no good reason. Fortunately she had had the rabies vaccine in the States and did not have to fly to Singapore for the full rabies treatment!

Shadow puppet show, from the Mahabaharata. The story was described and then narrated in Balinese, Indonesian and English but I completely lost the story line!

Cooking classes. They pick you up, take you to the market, efficiently have you cook and eat eight dishes and drive you back home. Delicious! 

Ubud is lively, friendly and very busy! 

The only danger are the holes in the sidewalk and disregard for crossing walkways and the ubiquitous unsafe water. (Got a sick tummy again!)

Go, have fun, get a cheap taxi ride if it rains and ignore all the other offers for rides and massages and street sales.

And if you start missing Western conversation, the Paradiso movie house and vegan cafĂ© on Hanuman Street will make you feel at home before you step back out into the beautiful and mysterious Bali. 

And I still had almost a month to go!!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Finally Appreciating Nepal!!

It has taken me 9 days with this family of 5 to finally appreciate the gifts I’ve been given.

There is no way I could have foreseen it! All I wanted was to learn organic gardening at after having been given a tour by Shyam two weeks before.  Here is the very accomplished and lovely Judith, who founded the farm with her late husband, and reaches out to teach the Nepali farmers and agricultural students techniques that work, are profitable and sustainable.

Shyam, the training manager,  had an upcoming 3 day training on trees and I certainly needed to learn how to graft and prune them. Only $10 a day for training and $10 a day for room and board at his house. It felt right. The interval of time between the meditation retreat and the training was awkward so I took him up on his offer to work at the farm as an “apprentice” for that time and to stay at his home. I hoped I’d learn a lot about organic gardening  in Nepal. I had no idea of what I’d actually learn.

Until today, the day I’m leaving, I’ve basically whined. 

To myself of course. To everyone else I hoped I looked easy and grateful and content. But inwardly I found it so difficult! I constantly had to use the “work with the difficulties” practices I’d learned at Kopan Monastery.  Why? Well, the language barrier. There was so much I wanted to know about this family, especially the women, but it was all filtered through Shyam and the poor guy had enough of answering my questions at the farm. So I nodded and said “dhanyabaad”, thank you, a zillion times. Communication was actually easiest with 20 month old Unnati! Hi, Bye, Ammah (mama), grins, bouncing on the knee…

And the sanitation has been a big put-off. 

I think I’m getting used to it. At least I’m using more of the wipe-with-the-water method, since toilet paper does not exist. But no soap in the out-house? Really? In two of the farms there was no sink in the kitchen. In all three there was no soap in the out-house. Makes the Kathmandu campaign I witnessed of  “Wash your hands!” much needed and especially poignant since so many children used to die of diarrhea in the summer, before electrolyte solution was invented. They eat on the kitchen floor which I think is hard mud. Anything spilled just soaks in. Peelings are dropped on the floor. Food that spills from the plate is left there. The goat occasionally scampers in and leaves a dropping. All of us leave our shoes at the threshold, except Unnati, so she tracks in who knows what. At the end of the day the floor is swept but obviously never mopped. 

One rag hangs — to wipe hands that wiped noses … So, close proximity of livestock, a wipe down of the floor each morning with sacred cow dung, food on the floor… Hard for this doctor to get used to! I’ve been scrupulous about drinking filtered boiled water. But still I got the tummy trouble at two of the farm stays. Dishes are rinsed in cold regular water. I have no control over that. Even if the food is offered with love...

And the danger and embarrassment of having to walk these rocky narrow slippery mountain trails with two hiking poles! 

Such a blow to the ego! It’s a miracle indeed that I haven’t broken my neck! The paths on the garden terraces are narrow and the wet clay soil is a set up for falling. The walk to and from the farm slows Shyam down a lot and he hasn’t complained, but the 92 year old neighbor, who easily moves up and down the hills, asked him, “What’s her problem?”

I’ve learned to ask the trainee girls for help going down sod terrace steps (why are the risers so high for these relatively short people?). I choose not to care what they think but I’ve  shown everyone the knee replacement scar to get a little sympathy. The main problem is balance on narrow tracks. I never noticed it in flat Florida. Not fun to be so unsteady! The knee replacement cut out the proprioceptive nerve fibers in the joint! Or maybe I’m just protein deficient! See how I whine?

And the fear was founded. I fell twice. The first just off the terrace, mistaking weeds for solid ground. Just down 8 feet, mostly sliding. And it was a miracle I didn’t gouge myself with the sharp sickle I was carrying! And another when I was walking alone down a stream bed— a neighbor girl helped me up. Fortunately the rock only bruised my butt and …  my ego.

Food. Falling. Fear. Not fun!

But … I soon realized that I had a choice. 

I had chosen this experience even though I had no idea of what I was getting into. There was one to blame but me! But more than that, none of this was a problem for anyone but me! They were doing just fine with the sanitation— better gut bacteria and strong legs and balance for the steps.  I was grouchy but it had nothing to do with anyone but me!! This is their place, their country, their culture and rituals. Their relationships.They are doing just fine!

And when Shyam was worried that one of the cow’s teats was blocked, is that really any different than when my adult child needs a car repair? There is always scarcity of some sort. Uncertainty. I wonder if they are more used to the vagaries of life — of nature, farming, animals, health?

They are certainly more familiar with the logistics of death. Within 20 minutes of a relative’s death, the conch horns sounded, cell phones rang and a group assembled. The women consoled the wife. The men prepared the body. And then they carried the blessed, fabric-wrapped body slung from bamboo poles, down the mountain, down a trail.  Shyam and others carried it for two hours to a sacred fork in a river. Others preceded them, cut down a tree, and prepared a funeral pyre. Within three hours of death, he was becomimg ashes. I know — I watched the video.

Who knows? Maybe a Nepali farmer’s life with subsistence crops and livestock, living with extended family and a debt-free house is even more certain than an American who loses a job, has college debt, a sick child and no health insurance. So, really should I pity them in any way?

I did have compassion and admiration as I watched a woman sift sand, and carry it, gravel, and bricks on her back to rebuild her house after the earthquake. 

I did have a little sense of anger as I watched the wife sick with bronchitis struggle to feed everyone including the animals, watch the child, do the dishes and laundry… while the husband basically sat after work. I finally said something and he did the dishes and rubbed her chest with Vicks! Definitely cultural differences.

Tonight, my last night, I watch the sun go down from my writing place by the rock goddess Devi. A fourteen year old boy appears and I ask what he is doing. (Neighbors do tend to wander into the place …) “I am looking at my village.” Village? All I see are houses scattered and hills. No market. No temple. But he proudly tells me the name, not knowing how to spell it, and that it includes 350 people. He knows his place.

So I have just been plopped into a place, a culture, a family. And the attitude I’ve finally arrived at tonight, my last night, is that of gratitude. Wow— what a rich experience!!!

The shift happened as I followed a woman up the path to the home. Shyam had stayed below to help his parents carry up immense bundles of rice straw on their backs (food for the livestock in the winter.) So he asked her to carry my back-pack, explaining about my knee problem. I recognized her as the woman who the night before appeared and pulled from her feed-sack vitamins for Unnati and worm pills and a tattered notebook for Shyam to sign. “She is from the government. Sort of the community health worker.” 

So when I met her on the path today she said, translated, that since I’m a doctor we share something and that we have to say hello in a special way. Shyam then told me that she was indeed a special woman. That before the hospital was built 20 minutes away she was the mid-wife, going up and down these paths at night, saving lives, and dealing with disasters. Wow! Was I privileged to be walking behind her! Here we are together, me full of admiration.

And for the first time as I precariously ascended the path behind her I wasn’t  ashamed of my disability. Here was a woman, a health worker, who understood that I was just doing my best.

A rich experience indeed.!!!

Tonight I will say thank you to them. 

I will explain how much I appreciate their patient inclusion of me. Their putting up with my cultural mistakes. Their toleration of my boiled water requests and slowed walk to work. 

And I’ll share what I admire about them— that they have each other and care for each other as an extended family. That spirituality pervades their days, with morning puja and over 100 holy days a year. 

That they wear clothes until they drop, use local resources— usually what they grow, come together within hours after a death as community, survive and rebuild after an earthquake, and even if there are the rare conflicts, there is always laughter.

I feel badly that I don’t have gifts for them, so I look through my stuff and come up with these. A  cobalt blue cloth for Sabita— given to me at Kopan Monastery to hold our Buddhist texts. Nice face soup from a hotel for Bagavati. A two dollar euro for the head of the household, Kesav. A one dollar bill and euro small coins for Shyam, and biscuits for Unnati. 

And what have they given me? Priceless! 

Memories of watching TV Animal Planet on the bed, rubbbing shoulders with the whole family, in English. Language is irrelevant with animals.

Celebrating the day of the Holy Basil, decorating the tulsi plant. (Tulsi is the goddess who worships Vishnu.) 

Fresh milk each morning and yoghurt made just for me. 

A very special treat for me of fried chicken feet. Hmmm…

And when I give them their presents, tears from the Shyam’s Mother, Bagavati. “Why are you crying?” I ask, translated. “Because you have been here so long, you are a member of the family. I’m going to miss you!”

They bless me with a beautiful mala that she strung from marigolds and chrysanthemum, a white scarf, and hugs. 

So, even though I learned how to air layer tree grafts, and recieve this certificate,

... finally, after a month of inner whining,  I’ve actually learned  appreciation for the courage, the ingenuity, the kindness and the beauty of the people of Nepal.

Thank you so much!!!

And together with you,  I wish the very best for your precious children, and your future!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The White-Faced Mama

Yes, I survived! What’s more, the gods didn’t strike me dead because I surely offended them!

There are cultural differences at this Nepali home-stay and no guide. So, I’m learning as I go and practicing not being offended when Shyam says, “You just made a BIG mistake.” Actually he has only said that when he’s told me once, I goofed, and he had to drive the point home.

Such as?

Where I pee. He suggested I work my way down the dark slippery slope with 2 foot high uneven stone risers in the middle of the night to the very clean outhouse. Sorry! I don’t think so! 

So we settled on me having a pail once it got dark. I dumped it the next morning in the very wrong place. He politely said, “Put urine on other side of your house. You put it where the Goddess is.”

OK… And yes, this morning we gave paint, food, water and incense to the Goddess Devi, which as far as I can tell, is a colorful stone. It’s all about intention and care — about respecting the sacred. Got that one.

And I’m afraid I goofed again when I asked him to repeat the constituents of the floor in my shed/room/earthquake house. “Is my floor stone?” It looked a little like adobe. “It is dirt.” “Dirt?” “Yes, dirt” OK… so I take my shoes off outside the room so I can walk on dirt with my clean socks...

That got me wondering about the kitchen floor. 

Turns out there is no dining room, much less a table. That’s right, no table. We sit on the floor of the kitchen to cook, eat, visit, etc… I asked about it too. “Every morning we spread it with red paint and cow dung to honor the Goddess Laxmi who is incarnated as the cow.” OK … so plates on floor, I’m sitting on manure. I choose to ignore the possibility of germs.

Next, I wanted to win over their sweet 20 month old daughter Unnati. 

She was understandably shy of this older lady in camping clothes. She wouldn’t smile or play so I gave her a cookie. Opps, without asking her Mother. Dumb! “Sugar?” Sabita asked. “Yes,” I admitted. Turns out she has had a cold for the last month and they aren’t giving her sugar.

OK… So, this morning I gave her an orange. Again, without asking Sabita. Dumb again. I figured the Vitamin C wouldn’t hurt. Boy did I get a look! Turns out that when their child has a cold they don’t give her raw food. (But I did see her eating a banana.)

I’m definitely waiting on bringing out the chocolate!

I’m amazed that this little girl does not have or need toys!

She simply imitates the adults and has a wonderful day. Here is the attic full of corn.

And here she is helping out husking the corn, without being asked and without praise. Joining in, having fun. Just a child doing what needs to be done.

She played for about two seconds with a corn-husk doll I made, tossing it aside to imitate my sweeping the courtyard free of goat poo with a smaller broom.

When her grand-mother made rotis from flour and water, she took a little wad and rolled it out too.

Here she is learning to milk, 20 months old!

Adorning the Holy Basil altar with paints.

Helping her grandfather bless the cow.


Dancing with her grandmother and father. All so natural...

And just hanging out. Loved, adults keeping her safe without hovering, learning by watching, part of an extended family.

And did little Unnati come around to me, the stranger who doesn’t speak her language?  

She finally started smiling  when we played peek-a-boo around a post. 

And when I pushed her on the little swing and sang a childhood swinging song, she looked at Shyam and called me something with a grin.

“What did she call me?”

“The white-faced Mama.”

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Arriving at Shyam’s Home

I sit at a place of unimaginable beauty.

Marigolds line terrace edges, growing there spontaneously. (Occasionally they are pulled up to feed the cow and buffalo and make pest-repellant tea.)

I’m not quite at the top of the “hill” (“mountain” is reserved for snow-capped Himalayas)— but it sure felt like we were making a steep ascent on the climb from the highway.

I can’t complain. All I had to haul up was my butt, two bad knees and a day pack. I offered to unload some of the suitcase and carry my part, but Shyam insisted on carrying it, full and heavy. He had promised me by email that it would be no problem but I’m sure he didn’t think I’d be bringing so much stuff for this 9 day home-stay. I’m sorry!

He did sweat and stop to rest on the way up. It was all I could do to not topple off the slippery stone “steps!” Finally he called his wife, Sabita.  She arrived with Nepali know-how — the strap that goes on the forehead to help with heavy loads. Here he is! Not with trekkers’ packs or fodder for the cows, but with my suitcase!

He warned me on the way that “My home is simple.” 

That’s fine. I’m used to camping. And at Sangam’s Organic Farm I slept in the Earthquake House — tarp top and floor and a few rodent droppings. Here my sleeping quarters is to be a shed with mud-daubed walls, a hanging light-bulb, an outlet that doesn’t work, a zinc roof and hard dirt floor. 

It does seem a little odd to have to take shoes off and then walk with clean socks on a dirt floor, but that’s the custom. I find out later that this was an Earthquake House too, with the roof donated by Shyam’s employer. Now it is a “home-stay” abode. I’m OK with the basics.

What is better than basic, what is perfect, is the view high above any pollution or dust!

The distant mountains, snow topped Himalayas above the clouds.

Terraced fields. Vegetables everywhere. Randomly placed houses, which constitute a village, even though there are no roads up here. And the sounds — birds I have never heard before. Even the bus horns way below are melodic, playing tunes that are banned in Kathmandu. Animals moo and bleat and knock their goat heads against metal feed bowls. Shyam’s wife quietly feeds the live-stock with the enormous basket-full of fodder she harvested from some field or terace wall.

And silently falling leaves, announcing fall.

And the feeling? Of spaciousness. So much clean air! Marigold scent when I brush against the golden blossoms.

I complained at the last place that I was living in a “barn-yard.”

I did not want to repeat that experience! Well, I have and I haven’t. The livestock of cow, buffalo and goats is tethered right below my shed. 

Two small goats actually frolic and poo freely right in front of the bench where we eat our noodle snack. It is the barn-yard! But it’s a happy barn-yard. 

Shyam loves his work and  is committed to teaching the Nepalese farmer organic farming and tree planting at the teaching/growing site “Everything Organic Farm.” It was established by the American Judish and her late husband who were well schooled in organic gardening in California. 

Shyam’s lovely wife calmly and continuously works. Loving her 22 month daughter, Unnati, chasing her with kisses and clothing her warmly as the temperature chills in the late afternoon. Feeding the live-stock. Bringing me warm milk from the cow. Cooking me noodle soup with just picked garden greens and insisting I sit on a cushion, not on the floor like everyone else. And when snack time is over, washing the dishes outside by a hose which brings water down the mountain.

I watch carefully how she squats and washes them. Placing dishes on the stones. Gathering ash from under the outdoor fire-place. Adding a shake of powdered soap. Rinsing dishes and putting them back on (dirty?) stones. Scrubbing them and rinsing and putting back on less dirty stones. In the kitchen they look gleaming clean but the water is not filtered. Am I risking something eating from them? We shall discover.

I’ve also begged a pan for peeing inside my shed at night rather than risk walking down the slippery stones in the dark to an unlit toilet shed. So, I have arrived and am settled.

That’s it for now. It’s getting chill. 

Sabita is picking marigolds for a mala for her brother who is going to Australia to study and work. One can’t get a work visa there so study is necessary with an extended family pooling money to get him there.

And before Shyam descends to the kitchen, leaving me perched by the view, he confides his ambitions. He is 26. At 11 he was sent to the city to be a servant. He went to school maybe 1 hour a day. Yet, after a few years of English exposure he is speaking remarkably well, He wants to open a home-stay place on his own land, not on this his Father’s home. But he has no money. I remind him of all he’s accomplished in 6 years of working the Everything  Organic Farm and teaching. “But,” he insists, “ My hard-working years are over at 40. After that I’ll get weak…”

I wish them well and hope it all works out, somehow. Hoping that  he can offer his daughter more than his parents could offer him.

It’s getting colder. Time to put on warm clothes and hope I can charge my electronics inside their house.

I have arrived!