By Jo Moore, ANSWER Sponsor, Seattle
Recently returned from Nepal, my head is still processing all I saw and learned, and my body is settling back to normal. The despair of witnessing this already poor country dealing with the aftermath of both a major earthquake and political upheaval resulting in the fuel embargo from India contrasts with the hope and joy I felt at meeting and working alongside our amazing ANSWER students. Let me describe a typical day for sponsors working on the building project.
The day starts early with tea in the alley behind the Pilgrims Guest House in Thamel. At 6:45 we race-walk for 15-20 minutes to catch a “bus” (usually a van-size vehicle packed with 40 or so riders) and ride cross-town to Minbhawan where a 5 minute walk brings us to the ANSWER Office by 7:30. There we meet the group of ANSWER graduates, 18 -22 year olds, who have signed up for the day and together we climb into the back of a pickup truck, about 40 of us standing sardine-like. The truck bumps along the pot-holed and congested streets of Kathmandu, picking up more kids along the way. The streets are crowded with lines of trucks and cars parked on the side in several mile long queues for petrol which might be sold one day a week. Trying to move in the street are buses, trucks, cars, motorcycles, tractors, tuk-tuks (3 wheeled electric vehicles), tricycles, bicycles of all sizes, hand carts, pedestrians—and just when the driver spots an opening—a cow (sacred). The sun and wind are exhilarating; the dust and noise of the chaotic traffic are not. After crossing the Bagmati River, we pick up a little speed as we careen our way through small towns, and after an hour and a half we stop at a stream where the road ends in Sankhu. We ford the stream, walk further, and finally arrive at our destination—the earth bag construction of a new home for Sabina and her family.
After some milk tea prepared under the cooking tarp, we grab our work gloves and divide into loose teams. Some are shoveling gravel or dirt into buckets, or breaking up clumps of dirt into more suitable fill material, others are in the bucket brigade passing to those who are filling bags. Some are tamping the bags, some are leveling the layers of bags, some are carefully laying barbed wire over each layer, some are cutting wire to close the bags, and yet others are, when there is electricity, sewing more bags to fit. And of course there were the cooks, chopping veggies and boiling rice. Under the hot sun, this is HARD WORK. At my retirement home in Seattle, I had been preparing for this by lifting more and more weights in my exercise classes, so my arms were doing ok with the 40 lb buckets, but boy did my feet hurt! Almost every task was standing; and we’d already been standing in the truck. Remarkably, the kids seemed just fine. Most of them were in flip-flops or barefoot despite Earle’s admonitions. We’d break for a lunch of dal bhat—rice, lentils, and curried vegetables—wash the plates with a hose, and head back to work for the afternoon. We drank gallons of water; the Americans using bottled or “Steri-pen” treated water, and the kids drinking the questionable supply from the hose. Fortunately being slightly dehydrated saved us from needing to use the makeshift “facilities” often. By late afternoon we were all pretty exhausted, and another snack of dal bhat was served for those young ones who wanted it. Then we cleaned up and trudged more slowly back to the truck. Earthbag construction appears to be earthquake proof, but it is certainly labor-intensive and not quick. Riding home, when darkness was falling, was when the young folks really showed their boundless energy. They were singing and dancing and whooping at passing cars and buses stacked with people on the roofs. Reversing our trek home, it takes longer to walk because now the streets are crammed with people shopping in the narrow lanes, and we have to dodge motorcycles, rickshaws and an occasional car.
Back at Pilgrims we eat a simple meal, usually with a cold beer because that is safe to drink. It is a very limited menu due to the embargo—it’s either more dal bhat or some form of curried chicken which has to be cooked over a slow wood fire. By then it’s 8 o’clock, we take a cold shower and we collapse into bed. Although the home was not finished before I left Nepal, each day the progress was clearly visible. And on a personal level, one day I was able to work with “my” student who had been brought in from her village to join us. It was such a privilege to work alongside these enthusiastic young people who are the future of this struggling young country. There is hope. Most of the population are under 30, and my experience with these young people is that they are committed to improving their country. Young children walk hours a day just to attend school. They are thirsty for education.
The ANSWER students are so impressive. They are training to be leaders of their country. So I leave Nepal with some positive impressions and hope for the future.