Surket and Mehentada
Surkhet – before I came I wanted to find out about Surkhet and if there was anything we should see. Well I could not find anything, not even in the Lonely Planet book which usually has everything. We quickly become aware of why that is – in the afternoon – the boys – we now have 4 in total – they are all attached to ENPHO and are part of the project in Mehentada – they were watching sports – Pat, Jessica and I decide to go shopping for bracelets and shoes (for me). Shoes – selection is very limited and only for people with small feet – no luck. So we move on to get our bracelets – it is Women’s Festival and every woman and girl wears 12 red bracelets – I thought it would help us fit in better. Have you ever had a whole street of people stare at you? We certainly were gathering a lot of attention even with our bracelets. We were approach by a young man who had many other young men following him – I quickly realized we were in trouble – so I tell Pat and Jessica – do not look at them walk straight ahead back to our hotel – walk fast. So we did and made it back to the hotel with them still following. When we got back to the hotel we did not say anything to the boys. However I think they kind of knew something must have happened as we were only gone for a short period of time. After a bit of time Ruja spoke to us and said in Surkhet they do not see foreigners – we are an oddity and people will not know how to react to us. It is an area that is not like the city – this is a rural area. He does notice our bracelets – and says yes very good this will make sure you have good menstruation. Jessica, Pat and I look at each other – what? I learnt something new – I didn’t know that.
We do go out to the Women’s Festival in the evening when it is cooler – however the boys stick very close to us and watch carefully as there are a lot of pick pockets. However there was a group of women and children enjoying the festival, dancing and drumming and it looked like so much fun . I started taking pictures and pretty soon I was surrounded by little ones all wanting their picture taken but they wouldn’t stand back – they didn’t understand that to take a picture you can’t stand right in front of the camera. Then a woman came over to ask me to join their dancing – so I did. I was told I was a pretty good Nepalese dancer. I don’t think I am I think they were being nice.
We walked a bit before we came to the main festival – lots and lots of people. We did not go into the crowd but stood at the back. As the event broke up we waited until most of the crowd left before starting to walk back. We had a number of “clingers” so we had to stop and let them pass us – sometimes they did not – we walked in front of the boys. In spite of that it was a fun evening. When we got back to the hotel we had a traditional Nepal meal – guess what that was – rice and daal – and some green vegetables - cooked. However Pat had brought some canned salmon and I my Coffee Nova – the boys had never tasted either – Pat explained what salmon was and how good it is. Two cans later – they loved it. The same with the coffee – they were surprised by the little package and it was coffee and cream. It was a very nice evening and a lot of fun.
The next day Jessica was not well so she stayed at the hotel. We had a meeting with a local government employee (Prem Krishna Shrestha – Environmental Engineer) who has been working in the rural areas in Nepal for many years to make changes in regards to health and sanitation. He was very interesting to listen to – he spoke about the role of women in the rural areas and the important role they play in using the water filtration systems – some of the successes and the not so successful things that have happened. Women are responsible for looking after the children – so if they attend meetings they can’t look after the children so are viewed as poor mothers. When they talk about preparing the rice – they talk about how she needs to go to the field to pick the rice and prepare for eating – it is a very labour intensive process. They are focusing in on the children and the schools to teach them. They are talking about if someone wishes to become a teacher – they will be required to have a toilet in their home before they can get a teaching certificate. They are also focusing in on washing hands – currently people are not washing hands or using ash water. Ash water is taking the ashes from the fire and adding water – it does work – however the water is still full of all sorts of bacteria, etc. so germs do spread. Prem is one of those people who is extremely passionate about his job – he does see hope it just takes a long time to make changes.
After the visit with Prem we went to the village – Mehentada – after that visit we understood what Prem was talking about. When we first got to the village I felt like it was something I had seen in National Geographic – almost like an Amazon village of some kind – it was like time had forgotten this place. I tried to put the pictures up however internet connection is a little unpredictable here – so hopefully when we get back to Kathmandu. Most of the homes the people live in the top half and the animals live below. They use these ladders that are really a big log with notches cut out. Some of the homes were just a kitchen which also served as a sleeping area as well. The homes were in very poor shape – all the roofs are thatch roofs – it is just at the end of rainy season so some of the roofs were in rough shape. We walked around from home to home with one of the woman to get people to come to a meeting the next day – we are hoping to have some people attend to talk about clean water - the different types of filters, what they need to do and a talk on hygiene and sanitation. I did take a picture of the only toilet in the community which sits in a middle of a field. That is one of the major problems – people do everything in the river – the same place they get there drinking water. I also have pictures of the water – you can clearly see how dirty it is. We took lots of pictures – some of the community members were upset- they thought we were taking pictures to sell them – this has happened before. One of the guys with us explained that was not our purpose – we were there to help get them safe drinking water.
It is very hard to make change – there is a lack of trust with anything new or anyone coming to the village – that is why the woman that was with us could assist us in getting people to attend the meeting – she is from the village and people trust her. In this community we had a crowd of people following us – we were even more of an oddity here. It was also explained to us that the people will actually listen to what we have to say as we are foreigners - they could say the same thing however will not be listened to as they come from Nepal – we come from Canada – we know what we are talking about. But it is contradiction- they don’t trust but yet they will listen to us??
It was so hot and humid here – we walked through many a rice field – we didn’t really walk through them but walked on the little walls – balance was key here. We really didn’t what to fall for many reasons but once they told us that a lot of people defecate in the rice fields even more important we did not fall off the little walls. By the time we finished are time here Pat and I were just soaked and maybe a little sun stroke.
We then had to go to another village to meet the Secretary of the District. First how many people can you fit into a truck – with cab of course – 8, I think. The roads were so bad – they were just tracks to get to the next village – this village looked like the one we left however in some odd way it was more modern. This meeting in a middle of a field at a school was very important. The Secretary is important and he made it clear he needed to be informed of all activities in his district. He certainly has the power to stop anything he doesn’t like. Right now the 3 political parties – the Maoist (currently in power – rebel gorilla force that gained power in 2008) – the Communist and the United People’s Front are all trying to gain control – in this village the Maoist had set up a huge camp just outside the village – I think it is for training and certainly not like our army training. So with the unrest he needs to be informed so he can deal with the various groups.
After talking to the local leaders the thought was that we may have to go to the plastic water filtration system as opposed to the concrete one that we made with the boys. It seems to be a little more acceptable in the community. But we will talk some more about that at the community meeting.
When we got back to the hotel – it was a rough day – I think the high heat and humid but also just experiencing the way of life in these villages that were like something you would see in a museum was a lot to take in. I think the last couple of days have been a little much and so foreign to us. So Pat and I decide that a glass of wine would be nice. However we do not want to offend our hosts as they are Hindu – they do not drink and already have issue with women smoking – so we come up with a plan. We will take a little walk around – we did see somewhat of a liquor store - no luck – this must not be a wine drinking community but hard liquor. So we decide to go back to the hotel – to our surprise they have wine on display behind the glass of the reception desk – yes success but now we must get the wine and sneak back to our room. Well that didn’t work so well as the guy keep yelling – do you what red or white – we would say red – and he would respond – white – we would say red – this went on for a while – finally he seemed to understand – however he pulls out a bottle of white – finally we got a bottle of red – just as we are paying for it we noticed them with a tray with the bottle of wine and two glasses going upstairs – our rooms all open up to a common area were we eat and do work – we don’t want that. So just as Pat takes after the guy going upstairs one of the guys comes down – I don’t think he knew what we were doing but he knew we were up to something – Pat catches up to the guy on the stairs – I follow and put the wine and glasses in a big bag I am carrying and we are telling him – shhhh – we get up to our rooms and two of the guys are sitting there – I quickly go into Pat’s room the one that is nearest – dump off the wine and glasses – and sit on a bench outside the room – Pat is talking to the guys. The one guy from downstairs comes up and is just watching us trying to figure out what we are doing. About 20 minutes later all the guys leave – Pat and I go into my room and have wine and smoke.
Life is good again !!!!!