Chris Richardson: Chris’s YAUC Experience

Chris's Volunteer Blog

Aug '06

Goodbye Saskia

On Monday I spent the morning making some appointments to get my teeth cleaned and get a physical.  I came to the house in the afternoon as usual.  The computer had arrived, and the internet was working.  The internet consisted of an Ethernet cable that had been wired at the next streets telephone pole, and strung down the alley and through Tej’s window.  Ghetto.  But if it works, it works, eh.  I had asked for XP Home, but they installed XP Pro, and the computer thinks there are TWO OS’s, so when I turn it on, I have to choose XP Pro.  Maybe that’s normal for Pro, but I doubt it.  Not the best start for a brand new computer… It also runs slower than I am used to because it’s a Celeron.  2.24Ghz is ok, but Celeron is noticeable slower than Pentium.  Otherwise it was great.  I told the shop not to install anything.  I hate it when a computer comes filled with junk programs which I then have to uninstall.  I had brought many programs (Norton Antivirus, Office, Photoshop, QuickTime, Real Player, Etc), and began installing them as well as setting the Windows parameters so everything is simple, and fast.

It was Saskia’s last night and Tej always likes to throw a little party (really just him and other volunteers) at the local restaurant on people’s last night.  So I said goodbye to the children and we went to have some drinks, good food, and conversation.  We talked about a lot of things at YAUC, and Saskia and I realized there was a misunderstanding about something we had been talking about before.  It always feels good to find out about misunderstandings, and it reminds me that cross-cultural communication is not always what it seems.

Jul '06

New Computer, and a Lesson on Contact Lenses

On Sunday we had big plans to buy YAUC a new computer.  We recently received a 386 IBM ThinkPad from Hannelore and Caroline, but since it didn’t have a CD-Rom drive or USB, we can not use it too much.  I thought we could just download any Nepali fonts, or programs through the internet via modem, but it turns out the phone lines at YAUC are just too noisy for modems to communicate to an ISP.  The computer is also in Dutch, so Tej doesn’t know what to do.  He doesn’t know much about computer anyway, but even I couldn’t figure out what the various error messages were saying.  The power cable sometimes has a loose connection, and the computer turns off.  All around, we will probably find a use for it (training for the kids), but it wasn’t suitable for Tej.  I wasn’t very supportive of the idea of buying an expensive new computer, but Saskia really saw the value in it, and wanted to donate one.  She and Tej both wanted to, so there wasn’t much need to discuss it.  Since I have a lot of experience selling, building, and programming computers, I joined them in their search for a new one.  She and I were very insistent on a 17 inch LCD monitor.  It was only a US$100 upgrade, and would use less electricity, take up less space, be less hot, better for the eyes, etc.  Tej refused.  I tried to put in the order after he left, but after I went home, he visited the shop and changed it again.  Sad.  Sometimes volunteers want to buy something for YAUC, and though Tej might think it’s a waste of money, I think it should be up to the volunteers have the choice.  Saskia felt it was a little ungrateful.  These are common problems and cultural differences I see at YAUC.  Not the end of the world, but it can still leave a bad taste in your mouth.  I don’t think Saskia wants to leave the whole donation in cash anyway, so if Tej was hoping to save the money and get cash, he might be disappointed.  I don’t know what will happen.

We also found a company that is supplying cable internet for cheap in Nepal.  We were able to sign up for a night program for only US$120/year.  I think Saskia has also commited to paying for this fee every year!  Wonderful!  I was also astounded to hear that they could set it up the following morning!  Great!  So now we will have a nice new computer and 128k internet connection at the house!  Big step for YAUC!  I’m glad Saskia pushed for this.  I regret that I was arguing against it at first.


In the evening Saskia had to change her contacts and Sabina noticed.  Saskia assured me that Sabina and other children had seen before but it was evident that they were amazed.  they really couldn’t believe it.  Sabina called all the children and Didi (the maid) upstairs to watch Saskia do it again!!  The look on their faces was total shock.  Their jaws just hit the floor!!  Hahaha.  It reminded me of another story I’ve heard before.  The story is about when Columbus “discovered” America.  When the ships approached the shore the natives couldn’t see them.  They saw ripples in the water, but literally could not see the ships because it was something so completely different than anything they had seen before.  After looking for a long time at the ripples, only the village wise man could see the ships.  Because everyone trusted him they too soon were able to see the ships.  I think the same thing happened with the children.  A few days ago Saskia had already shown them her contacts, but the children just didn’t see them.  This time Sabina was able to see them and was in shock.  When the other children came upstairs to look, some of them were also shocked.  But the very youngest just looked bored and confused as to what everyone was looking at.  I don’t think they saw the contacts this second time either!  I wish I had my camera to share the utter shock on the face of Sabina.

That night I stayed late, but was talking to Tej and Saskia in the office when the children went to bed, so I didn’t get to tuck them in.




Jul '06

Field Trip to Baktapur

On Saturday I arrived at YAUC in the afternoon.  Tej went to the main road to find a micro-bus (van) to hire for the days fieldtrip.  I started handing out the socks that my Japanese elementary school had donated.  Saskia and I had to teach the kids that socks have a shape and you have to put the heal on the bottom.  When Tej came back we started figuring out what shoes would fit which kids.  Eleven of the twelve children ended up finding shoes that fit.  Some had to wear 2 or 3 socks, but it worked.  It had been a beautiful day, but as soon as we were about to leave it started to POUR rain!!  So we all got the children’s raincoats and umbrellas and we piled into the micro-bus.

The drive to Baktapur takes an hour.  Tara kept things lively with her constant singing.  She never stopped the whole hour.  She has a pretty big repertoire of Nepali, English, and Dutch children’s songs.  She is missing her front 2 teeth right now (many children are getting their big teeth now), so she was a sight to see, belting out tunes with a big toothless smile.  She’s a cutie.  The driver was pretty careful on the drive there.  Usually the drivers in Nepal have a death wish, and pass cars every chance they get even if there’s no reason.  There are many head-on collisions in Nepal every week!!  But it was good he was safe because the children don’t ride in cars very often, so they are susceptible to motion sickness.  This time they were fine, but I remember they used to throw up a lot.  If you take a public bus in Nepal you are guaranteed to see people throw up out the window… just try not to sit behind them.  REALLY.

We arrived in Baktapur and Saskia and I paid our tourist fee.  Baktapur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is famous for it’s old Nawari architecture.  Inside the city there are no cars (for the most part) and all the streets are small brick roads winding up and down the natural curvature of the landscape.  Nawari architecture is most famous for it’s intricate wood windows (no glass; just wooden lattice work).  There are numerous Hindu shrines and temple structures spread out all over the public squares.  There are also a few famous ponds with ancient sculptures.  Some of the buildings are for Hindus only, but most of the city is open to anyone.  We walk somewhat slowly as a group, and it was rainy, so we only explored a little, but it was lots of fun for the kids.  It was their first time to this important city.  A funny thing happened just as we were about to leave.  I wanted tot take a picture of the kids on the main temple building.  It’s kind of like a tiny, steep pyramid with enormous elephant and lion statues lining the one staircase leading to the top.  I couldn’t get any good pictures, and one of the reasons was that Sabina (the eldest) was staring off into space and really didn’t look happy.  They all came down, and I noticed an older boy talking to her.  It looked like he just walked up to her and started asking questions.  I thought he was just curious and was asking what this group was all about, and who the foreigners were.  But Tej said it was her BROTHER!!!  Now, if you’ve been to Nepal or India, you know that any close friend is called your brother, or sister.  Even my close Nepali friend, Ganesh, calls me his brother sometimes to other people.  Everyone understands.  But in fact he wasn’t just a friend.  It turns out Sabina is from Baktapur, and this was her cousin (mother’s brother’s son).  She was acting very shy and girlie, and I think I understand that she was to visit her family sometime before October.  Not sure about it though.  It was a big surprise to me, and in this culture of vagueties, it helped me understand a certainty - she has a family, and they remember her (and she, them).  I am constantly learning about YAUC, and the children’s lives so it was nice to learn that piece of information.

The drive back was not as smooth.  Probably because the driver was in a rush to get business.  We played chicken with a very large truck while passing another truck (unnecessarily of course..).  And all the children were sound asleep.  I had the youngest, Raju, on my lap the whole time, and he was so adorable.  He had a nagging cough that I haven’t noticed since, but at the time it seemed very strong.  He was totally asleep, but would cough 2-3 times in a row every minute or two.  He was wearing black eye shadow like all babies and young kids (especially boys) in Nepal.  I thought it was a custom derived from their living goddess (Kumari).  She is a prepubescent girl who is chosen every few years to represent a Goddess that is sort of an angry Goddess of innocence.  As soon as she has her first menstrual cycle she is no longer a Goddess, and they find a new one.  Anyway, she always has the same makeup and dress.  And her makeup is mostly heavy eyeshadow.  Saskia and I asked about Raju wearing eye shadow, and it turns out it is charcoal, and it is a Nepali belief that it keeps the eyes clean.  I can almost see how that works, but I’m not a believer yet…

For the rest of the day we just relaxed.  The children were very tired (except Sabina, who might have just been excited to have seen her cousin).  Many slept, or were just grumpy.  I stayed to put them to bed and tuck them in, and then made my way to Thamel for a long night out with Ganesh.  It had been very hard to really talk to my good friend while in Japan, and this was our first chance to truly catch up and talk about serious things.  Finally got to bed at 3am.

Jul '06

Planning, Dogs, and Sludge

On Friday I again took care of my own needs in Thamel and arrived at YAUC in the afternoon.  I spent all afternoon and evening in YAUC and talked to Tej and Saskia a lot about our different ideas, and opinions about what YAUC needs, and what to change.  Again I stayed until bedtime and tucked them all in.  The walk back from the house to the main intersection is not long, but it’s not fun to make after 9:30pm.  All the families along the road seem to go to bed at 9:30, so after that the already empty, dark road becomes silent.  I really feel alone, and vulnerable.  I’m not worried about people, but I AM worried about dogs.  When people are awake, and making noise, and eating, there is lots for the dogs to do, and they are not hanging around on the road.  But when everyone is sleeping, the dogs come to the road, and hang out.  Mostly eating trash, but sometimes sleeping.  I haven’t seen any rabid ones on that road yet, but if they think I’m going to steal their food, or if I wake them up from a sleep, I’m really worried I won’t be able to escape them.  That’s my only fear in Nepal.  Dogs.

I made my way to Thamel to meet my friend from Boston for some drinks.  It had rained that day.  As I walked from the taxi to the sidewalk I saw that the gutter was wet, but I wasn’t thinking.  I stepped in it and it turned out to be a semi-solid puddle of shit.  It was all along the road. gutters.  It could have been anything, but it was basically black sludge.  It covered my sandals, feet, ankle, and lower pant leg.  I was ABOUT to meet my friend at an expensive bar, and he was with his friends and family.  What a pain in the ASS!!  Of course there was no clean water or puddles around.  I pleaded with some security guards to use the bathroom/shower they have to use.  I washed it off mostly, but I would intermittently smell sewage all night as a result.  Ugh.  Such is life in Nepal…

Jul '06

First Day - Planning our projects

On Thursday I got some business done around Thamel and said hello to many of my friends who work here.  Everyone was happy to see me, but didn’t want to talk about this past year because it was just too many bad memories.  They want to forget the violence, and food shortages, and collapse of the Kingdom.  I know it was all for the better, but these civil wars are never nice memories.

I went to YAUC and planned some of our projects.  I looked around the house and assessed some things that needed attention.  Before I start any new projects, I want to make sure the previous projects are working well, and things are not broken.  The playroom was very dirty, and messy.  The children had not been taught to take care of their toys, or clean up when finished.  One problem is that there is no real place for each toy.  So we decided to clean the room, and label each shelf so that they would know that the “cars go here”, and “dolls go there”.  I hope it works.  The new kitchen is WAY better than I expected.  It’s far from gourmet, but I thought it would be too hot, and not suitable for human habitation.  But it doesn’t seem to ever get hot.  I still want to seal it off from rats, like we did for all the house rooms (the kitchen is a separate brick structure next to the house).  We made a plan to take the kids to Baktapur for their Saturday fieldtrip and talked about some other things we need to do.  These first day have been lots of talk.  Only a little action.  But after being away for so long I need to really understand the NEEDS and desires of YAUC, and catch up.  Slowly we are becoming more proactive.

I was able to stay later on Thursday so I got to put the children to bed and tuck each in.



Jul '06

Arrival in Kathmandu

Ah, back “home” in Nepal.  This country constantly amazes me.  I’ve only been here 4 1/2 days, but already more has happened than I could possibly write about.  I didn’t have any problems getting my slightly overweight baggage on any of the airlines, and due to an overbooking of my United Airlines flight out of Tokyo I was upgraded to Singapore Airlines for my flight to Singapore!  It was a nice surprise.

On Wednesday, Tej, the YAUC director, picked me up at the airport as usual, and I brought the shoes and toy donations (from Japan) to the house and let all the kids see what they were given.  I met Saskia, the current volunteer, and we all talked about life at YAUC, and Nepal.  I was able to share with Saskia a lot about things that have been changing over the past few years, and I caught up on YAUC news with Tej.  The children were SO excited as they came home from school, and I spent the rest of the night with them playing, doing homework, and eating.  I wasn’t able to put them to sleep as I like to do (I think I’m the only one to tuck them in at night) because I have to sleep in Thamel (the tourist district) until Saskia leaves, and I hadn’t booked a guesthouse yet.

I made my way to Thamel and decided to try a new hotel that is nicer than the rest of the cheap guesthouses (Hotel Northfield).  My friend from Boston is in town, so I’ve been looking forward to seeing him for a while.  We met up and ate at my favorite chill restaurant (OR2K) and caught up on the news of our lives for the past couple years.

Jul '06

1 Week to Go

So I was ALMOST about to fly to Germany for this 3-day weekend in Japan, but considering I have so much to do (among other reasons) to get ready for Nepal next week, I decided to stay.  So this weekend I’m updating as much of the website as possible as well as cleaning my apartment for my month-long absence. I convinced one of my elementary schools to collect donations from parents, but when I asked the other school, they sort of implied they were just too busy.  It’s the end of the semester here, and everyone is scrambling to get everything done before vacation.  There’s still a chance they can help, though.  I noticed they were changing out an old computer for a brand new one last week.  The old one just got put under a table, and I would find it hard to believe they will use it for anything.  I asked the vice principal what they were doing with it, and she said she didn’t know.  So next week I’ll just ask for it straight out.  No harm in asking, right? 

As for YAUC, I know they need some new foam flooring for the playroom.  And if I can get my hands on a computer, that would be great.  But otherwise, I plan on mailing any donations I get.  There is no pressing need for clothes or toys at YAUC, so that can be shipped by boat.  They will get it in 2-3 months, just in time for Mitch and Heather’s arrival.  Saskia is at YAUC now, and I have been emailing her ideas this weekend.  I had a huge brainstorm while sitting at my desk the other day.  I can tell I’m getting revved up for this trip because my mind is running at a thousand miles and hour.  I woke up this morning from a dream.  In the dream I was STILL planning new things at YAUC.  I wrote down the new ideas as soon as I woke up. 


I’m very excited!!

Jul '06

Getting Ready

I’ll be flying out in less than 2 weeks on my way to Nepal.  I am very excite, and have managed to get the elementary schools I work at to ask parents for donations.  I hope it works out, but I won’t know until donation day on July 20.

 Every night I dream about what I’ll do at YAUC, and how to spend my time.  I almost feel stressed about the limit of time I have there.  This summer will only be 3 weeks.  I know once I get there I’ll remember how slow the pace of life is in Nepal, and won’t feel rushed, but I think my experience last year was too rushed.  I only had 9 days last summer!  It was 5 days helping Tej, then 2 days on my own, one day visiting my friend’s family in the mountains, and my last day was just shopping for souvineers for my coworkers in Japan (Japanese style).  This will be considerably longer, but I’m still stressing a bit.