Friday, 25 September 2009

My Last Day

I went in this morning and found the orphanage closed to the general public. I overlooked the fact that it is the beginning of the festival season. It lasts for 4 days till the following Tuesday. I took in the 3 newly altered mattress covers for the day room. Davee was not in .It was a real pain to have to cart them back to Uma's on public transport! I will have to go back next week with John. John is bringing 2 large bean bags for the 3 teenage girls who are suffering from cerebral palsy in the sleeping room upstairs.

There is a team of Spanish volunteers here , working with the orphans who suffer from laerning disability. These kids are cared for lying flat on their backs from god knows when.The Spanish workers are trying to get a wheel chair as well as bean bags to enable staff to sit them up to have a change of scenery sometimes. Uma is trying to get a wheelchair through her brother who is a member of the Rotary club here. I happened to have a conversation with Pablo, one of the spanish volunteers. We decided that it will be easier to source them in UK. It is fortuitous that John is coming to Kathmandu next week He has got them ready for the journey. We are keeping our fingers crossed that Qatar Airline will be obliging enough to allow John to check in 2 large and unwieldy luggages in addition to one of his own.

I was given the impression, through sign language and broken English that the day room will be open today- Friday, before they break for the festival. I did think that it may not be open.But then I thought the orphanage is a residential place.They will probably do something special today before the staff leaves for the week end . As one can appreciate, I will be the first one to want to stay away if I have a choice. Then I thought I will be letting people down if they are expecting me to turn up.

Against my better judgement I went in, lugging this heavy bag of mattress and cushion covers.The front door was locked. I had to go in via the back door which is full of traps in my opinion. Its strewn with bits of discarded tyres, toys, clothes and heaven knows what else amongst the tall and overgrown grass. The day room was closed. Davee was not there. I popped my head into the sleeping room upstairs. I found the children all lined up sitting on the floor, waiting for lunch to be served. They looked so calm and angelic for a change that I thought I better escape while the going is good. So I scarpered like a scalded cat......

I have to negotiate quite a tricky patch of garden /back yard with squelchy and muddy grounds on my way out.There were many toddlers running around amongst the numerous nanny goats there .One of the 3 year old from the day room called out to me 'didi, didi'. He was running around, pulling at the goat nearest to him, totally in his element of being allowed outside. He seemed very happy. I stopped to sat hello. I rubbed his tousled hair, while looking to see if there are any adults around keeping an eye on him as well as some of these young ones. There was only one young man around. He was concentrating his effort on trying to load or rather haul all the nanny goats onto a ?three wheeler van like the one 'Del boy' drives. It was quite a comical sight. In fact it was the most light hearted moment I experienced since I started at Balmandir. And sun was shinning for a change......May be some one up there thought I deserved a break on my last day. It was hilarious. Imagine 'Del Boy ' hauling nanny goats into his 3 wheeler in an orphanage in Nepal !!! Hahaha And so I went out of the orphanage laughing to myself, totally forgetting about looking for a responsible adult to keep an eye on the youngsters.

That was my last formal day at Balmandir.

My feelings ? Well,I have learnt a lot more than I did last year. It truly opened my eyes to the sufferings of these unfortunate youngsters. And I feel so helpless at the same time.Through the generosity of all you sponsors, we were able to make a tiny difference for some of the children for a few months at best , no more than that

Whats the answer ? Well, there is no answer.I accept my limitations along with my frustration at how unfair the world is . It is all to do with accident of births.............

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Orphanage

Due to the festival period, the day room where I have been working has been closed for over a week now .Reason being the 2 main workers are on leave. That means that the toddlers and the 3 and 4 year old have been stuck in their respective sleeping rooms upstairs without any toys or open spaces to run around during this period.

I went in last week to find that it is the common practice whenever the festival period is around. All the 'normal' toddlers are wondering around the room aimlessly, with no toys and people to interact with. They are all meandering in between the cots.It was terrible to see. The minute they see someone entering the room, who remotely resembling an interaction, they all came crowding round. Each time I went in , I would have numerous little arms out stretched to be picked up. With my bad shoulder, I can only pick one up at a time. The rest just fighting to get into the crooks of my legs. It was not an agreeable state of play in my book. However I chided myself that I am here, so I just have to get on with it. So I persevered till the end of last week.

Over the weekend, I mulled over repeatedly my feelings about working in the sleeping room upstairs for this coming week.The thought filled me with dread.I decided to play truant for 2 days. Its the first time ever , in my life that I failed to do something that's expected of me!.I did feel guilty, but came to the conclusion that if the orphanage don't care whether I go in or not, then why should I care ? I am totally demotivated, an alien experience for me.So I convinced Uma that we will take the children out for lunch yesterday.

We had a great time, stuffing ourselves with momos and pizzas. Its the second outing they have had. It transpired that two of the children have never been on an escalator before. So while we were out, we went to a shopping mall and took the 2 children up and down the escalator.It reminded me of the time when escalators were first introduced in Malaysia , about 20-30 years ago. My mother and aunt (her sister ) were really nervous about getting on this moving contraption.They would always prefer to walk up the stairs than trying to time their steps with this mechanical moving thing. We used to laugh our heads off at the two of them trying to negotiate the escalators they encountered. After the escalator experience, Uma took them all in a lift for them to feel the sensation of going up in a lift , albeit only to the fifth floor. We had a great day

Reluctantly I decided that I cannot skive the whole week, so I went in this morning . Though I knew that they would be desperate for play and interaction, it still hit me when went in. All the little arms are stretching out to be picked up. One of the Spanish volunteers was talking to me about getting a wheelchair for the 3 teenage girls with ?cerebral palsy ?learning disability. I was moaning about the lack of toys to keep the children occupied. He then gave me a dozen balloons for the children. As I was walking back to the room, I started to blow up some of the balloons on the way .Suddenly I had a crowd of older children 8-10 years old gathering around me , each crying for a balloon from me. I looked helplessly at Pablo, the Spanish volunteer to ascertain what I should do. He spoke to them in Nepali. I am not sure what he said to them. They were still whining and begging when I escaped into the room.

The balloon was a good therapy. It kept them occupied for a good hour. By then most of the balloons had been squeezed and burst. I then decided that I will swing each of these tots on my left /right leg for amusement. And that everyone will take his/her turn, forgetting that 18 month old do not understand about taking turns. Though I was generally keeping most of them happy, so I thought. Suddenly I felt a severe pain in my left ankle. One of the little blighters had bitten me out of sheer frustration of having to wait his turn. I am not proud to admit this. I reacted instinctively and pinched him to show him that it hurt.He glared at me and shook his head.There was a round teeth mark, but at least it didn't break the skin. So that was that.

All the while , the 2 workers in the room just sat and did nothing. They looked so dejected and uninterested in everything around them. ?A victim of the system ?

What shall I do tomorrow ? Do I go in and face the same ?

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Orphans in Kathmandu mark 2

Pangum's mother turned up yesterday with her father and sister. I understand from Uma that she tore into mum , telling her off. I was out sight seeing with Emily yesterday -another story
Uma wanted to know how Pangum's mother sees as her responsibility as a mother. Uma was asking angrily why she had not tried to make contact and come to see Pangum for the past 3 years? Why give birth to a child when she has no interest of caring or loving the child ? Apparently, the poor woman just broke down following the barrage of angry words from Uma. She did not answer but just remained quiet with tears rolling down her face

Pangum does not remember her mother.Therefore she was reluctant , like she was with her father ,to go near her. After sometime, her mother bribed her with a bag of goodies to share with other children. She then went forward, and her mother grabbed her and they fell into each other's arms and broke the ice. Uma tried to have a more rational conversation with the parents after that. There are 2 more younger ones at home, a boy and a girl.They are considering putting at least one of them in another orphanage. They are unable to provide for the children. Uma feels quite frustrated by this. She repeated what she said earlier -' why give birth to a child if you are not going to care and love the child? ' I think these words just fell on deaf ears...May be there are things we don't understand........

They then asked if they could take Pangum out for the day. Again Uma refused their request. Pangum is now quite clear where she stands . Uma is the Kathmanu mommie, and mommie is the one from Lantang..She is quite emphatic that she wants to stay with the Kathmandu mommie. There was no tears when they left, just a big sigh . Uma did ask the parents how should they contribute towards Pangum's up keep ? They obviously unable to pay, but would send bananas and potatoes to her from their vegetable patch as and when

Hot on the heels came another phone call. This time is one from Rajeish's mum who came this morning. The last time Rajeish saw his mum was a year ago when he severed his second toe. I was here when it happened.He has 2 older sisters living at home with his mum. The eldest who is 16 years old , accompanied his mother to see him today.Lots of long and awkward silences in the room. The mum seems a nice woman . Rajeish interacted with his sister, but appeared to keep a distance away from his mum. He feels the rejection acutely. I think he is angry with her

Uma wanted to establish whether the mother is in a position to have Rajeish back . She said she lives in a rented room with her 2 teenage daughters and husband. It is a room where they cook , live and sleep in.She is not able to take care of Rejeish because she is the only wage earner in the family. Then she got a little upset. The visit was quite short. It may have lasted for half an hour. Then its till the next year for Rajeish !

Uma and I talked about this. Uma feels that these children are not true orphans. Now that she has given them a good few years' start, they should be in a position to go back home to continue their schooling. She will ensure sponsorship for their education till they finish high school.She feels strongly that she should give the opportunities to the truly genuine orphans who are without any parents..As things stand , she can take 3 additional youngsters only. I remind her that these children has had stability, care and love after their first few traumatic years. Returning them to their families who are unable to care in the way they are used to will cause more upset .It will undo all the good work she has done with them up till now.Is it not better that she focus her energy in developing the 10 youngsters into useful citizens, rather than taking a chance on them becoming a labourer looking for a job on a day to day basis (if the family is unable to provide the stability and care needed ) should they decide to leave school early?

Uma is mulling over what I said.She is a woman with integrity and good values. I feel sure she will come to a very sensible and wise decision. It appears that the scenarios seems to play out each year when the festival arrives in September. The urge to want to see one's child becomes unbearable, even though they have not visited for a whole year. This is what frustrate Uma the most. She does feel used. And I don't blame her one jot. I suppose is what we call human nature, in the context of extreme Nepali poverty and deprivation. And I blame the government !

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Orphans in Kathmandu

I came home from the orphanage yesterday to find Pangum's father,( one of the children living with Uma) talking to Uma sitting on the stone steps outside of the house. An 'uncle' who speak fairly good English was trying to explain to Uma and I the reason they turn up without any prior notice.

Up until the beginning of 2008, Uma was working in an orphanage where there were 20 plus children. The proprietor ran the orphanage as a business. ie any donations are absorbed as income for the proprietor and his wife, leaving the minimum possible to feed and clothe the children. Uma was not impressed with the care given there. She then decided that she can do better . So she left that orphanage. She then asked for some of the children she has been looking after to join her at her newly set up orphanage. Pangum was one of the 6 children given. At the time there was no accompanying history for Pangum . Uma only knows that she has an older sister in the same orphanage.She has tried to get the sister to join her, but the proprietor refused because she already has a sponsor which mean income for the proprietor. He would lose the income if he were to give her to Uma. Uma offered to pay for her release.The proprietor then asked for a very large sum of money which Uma could not afford. It was basically blackmail. Uma decided that she has to drop the idea.It was upsetting at the time because Uma has been planning for her arrival together with another sister of one other child she has. We talked about it. It was not meant to be...

Since then, Uma has been badgering the authority and the orphanage trying to establish whether Panhum is truly an orphan. There is no birth details. Often the actual age of the orphan is based on guess work. We think Pangum is 7 years old.We have no birth date. No one has ever visited her at the orphanage, certainly not at Uma's since almost 2 years on. Then out of the blue, her father turned up with her sister and an uncle who did all the talking.Uma was most put out

It would seem that Pangum's family comes from high up the mountain in a very remote village. Boy,I can vouch that its remote alright. I stayed at one of those villages (if you can call it a village with only 4 houses) when I went trekking last year. There is no work available.One can only find trees and vegetation there. A school is 3/4 hours of working away. Many of the mountain villagers gave up their children to orphanage because they know they will have a better future with opportunities for education, better nutrition and living.So they come to Kathmandu and leave their children sometimes in an orphanage, other times just by a train or bus station.Alternatively through an 'uncle'. Pangum was around 3 plus when she first went to the orphanage. She does not remember her father. She refused to come out of her room even to say hello. She tentatively circled round her older sister. I saw her sister briefly last year one evening when Uma took me and the kids back to pay the old orphanage a visit. That visit reminded me of a Romanian orphange at the time. Pangum's sister was there with crew cut hair in an old dirty vest sitting in the dark with other kids during one of the power cuts , at 7pm. The contrasts couldn't be greater then

Pangum's sister has grown her hair long, She looks small compare to Pangum who is 3/4 years younger.Otherwise well.She was playing with the older children in their study room. When I came back out later, she was having her hair combed through with nits falling on the floor.It would appear that there is no stigma attached to having nits, just an inconvenience.I could not believe the amount that were coming off her hair. The floor was covered. I feel itchy just thinking about it now

It transpires that there is a mother also. She is coming to visit tomorrow! Pangum 's father asked to take Pagum out with her sister to a nearby Monkey temple to give thanks to god etc. Uma would not hear of it .She said to him that if he takes her out, he did not bother to bring Pangum back, ever. In any case, Pangum would not go with her father who is like a total stranger to her

In the absence of news in the past 2 years, Uma has grown particularly close to Pangum. She has admitted to me on many an occasion that Pangum is her favourite. Though she does not show it openly, I guess children are pretty cute . They pick this up themselves, saying that Pangum can get away with murder with mommie.

This turn of event has upset Uma greatly. She was having a real go at the father yesterday, asking why he has not bothered to visit Pangum at all in the last few years. To then just turn up and expect things to be normal is just too much for the kid...especially at the festival time! I did think its a bit harsh to refuse his reguest and issue an ultimatum.I guess I do not have the emotional investment which Uma has made over the years. She must feel used

It would seem that what Uma experienced is not uncommon. Apparently there are many so called' uncles' who take money from the parents promising them that they will find a good orphanage for their children . Parents being isolated up in the mountains and generally uninformed, are in a desperate state to give their children better lives. Frequently the mother is working in town away from the family.Father is then ended up with the child care . He often cannot cope. So they pay money to these manipulative 'uncles' who make a good living out of the miseries of these impoverished and desperate parents.

Uma has just found out that one of her recently acquired orphans has both parents livng and kicking. Her mum is actually working in Kathmandu. Uma is planning to return her to her family when the current school year finishes.

In her view, her orphannage is there for orphans or children suffering from genuine hardship. Anyone who came with less genuine reasons will be returned to their family.I agree with her totally . She now faces a real Dilenma.......

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The Donation

Uma managed to have her way.We were in the Chair's office (again )yesterday. The numerous bags (10 in total ) were formally presented to the Chair and the director at Balmandir (The Nepal Children Organisation), or rather the Orphanage. They were very appreciative of the generosity of 'The Friends of Nepal' from England and Malaysia. They would like me to convey their thanks and appreciation to you all sponsors. And also a big ' thank you' from me as well which make the effort possible

At one stage, the director asked if we would like to give out the clothes to the children ourselves. Uma ad I both felt that it is not a good idea. That the orphanage should do it in their own way and time. It would appear that a donor very generously purchased 80 jackets for the children without realising the exact number in the previous year. It ended with some youngster going without. That caused some upset in the orphanage. The chair commented that this time there will be 2 pairs of pants and bras for every teenage girl there. It is a much better situation. Thats only because we asked for a list from the director.Initially when we both looked at the list, we did not think we would able to buy everything on the list with the amount required. Miraculously with the 20% discount and good house keeping, we achieved it . We were both tired but elated at what we manage to buy at the end. Best of all its the festival time starting from tomorrow. An ideal time (like xmas ) to give out new clothes to all the kids

It was very pleasing to be back in the toddlers' room today. Mendira is still away. However with me being a regular and reliable volunteer, the powers to be must have decided that the worker and I will be safe to operate the day room. In the event, a second volunteer turned up to make it 3 .Its so much better to see them having the space to run around and play with the toys than just wondering aimlessly weaving through the cots upstairs.

I have always been careful to wear a ta bard when I started here in the first week .However it is very warm with 2 layers on. And I stood out with that garb on . So I decided that I will go without in the second week. So I blend in just like every body else. I do not usually have toddlers sitting on my knees with no nappy on. Today was very hectic. Somehow I lowered my standard , just momentarily. Well , what a big mistake !

It was toileting time. Therefore there were lots of bare bottoms running around. One of the tots was upset about something, running towards me, I naturally picked him up and sat him on my knees to comfort him. Then I thought I could smell something unpleasant. Its only when I put him down to put the nappy back on, that I realised the little blighter have not had his bottom cleaned after been for a poo ! I had to endure a good hour of the smell on my trousers before I called it a day @ 12.30. I normally finish @1.30 each day. It was funny and it was not. I was conscious that I might smell in the bus. Thank god all the windows were open .The warm breeze was so welcoming.....

A big event was happening this morning.Apparently there were some actresses and celebrities arriving to visit the children at the orphanage. They came into the toddlers' room soon after I arrived . They were accompanied by the Board members and the chair. It was good timing because there were 3 of us to the 12 children. That's not a bad staff ratio. There was an Italian woman in the group who is hoping to adopt 2 of the very adorable toddlers in the room. I thought the adoption by foreigners were banned and that the adoptive parents cannot choose a specific child, so I was told. I supposed like everywhere in the world, wealth can oil things very smoothly. No doubt a big donation is winging its way to the coffers of the orphanage. Reality beckons

So much for now. I must try not to be cynical. Its a very bad human trait

Monday, 14 September 2009

The Big Spent

For the past 3 days, Uma and I have been travelling the breadth and width of Kathmandu to try to maximise the money I have collected from UK .A sum of of 900 USD was spent on the Orphanage. With Uma's contacts, we were fortunate to get 20% discount on most items, talk about arm twisting and blackmailing... Therefore we were able to purchase more than we originally planned. We both are shattered by the running around, but very pleased with the end result

They are the following:-
102 pairs of girls pants (large); 40 pairs of girls' pants (medium) ; 102 pairs of bras (32/33 )
110 pairs of boys' pants (small and medium ); 50 boys' vests(55 -65 cm ); 10 large vests and pants for boys;
100 bed sheets ;100 towels
And I purchased for the toddlers' room which I work in (because they are special ):
3 large winter blankets, 3 bed covers. 10 pillow cases, 2 large towels plus play dough and balls .

I was able to put aside 200USD from the pot towards the milk for the children . All the clothing and beddings are piling up in Uma's lounge at the moment. . They do look to be a fair amount of stuff.

Uma is insistent that they should not be taken in and just left with the staff. She feels strongly that they should be presented formally to the chair. After all, it is a very big donation by any standards. I have to go along with her because she lives here, and she knows how the land lies, etc.

Today is Children's day in Nepal. I was told early on in the week that there will be sweets and goodies distributed to all the children in the various rooms.I arrived to find the day room for the toddlers locked. Eventually I found the regular worker in the day room upstairs in the children's bedroom, or rather the sleeping room. It appears that Mendira, the worker in the day room has had a family bereavement. She will be away from work for the coming week. There is no replacement staff That's the reason the day room is closed. It would seem that they will all be couped up in this room until she returns. I suppose that goes for the 2 and 3 year olds in a different room as well. Furthermore, there was no evidence of any goodies being distributed to the kids while I was there
I went into the sleeping room to find over 15 or so young toddlers sitting, crawling, howling and/or sleeping on the floor.. They were all clamouring for human contact and affection. I realised then only half of the more forward ones are placed downstairs in the day room where I have been for the past 10 days.The less mature ones are left upstairs all the time in the sleeping room. If I picked one up, another will be crying wanting the same . In the end, I just sat on the floor, with 3 or more climbing into my lap and over my shoulder with arms round my neck, just for some human contact. It is heart breaking to see and experience that urge in these young toddlers through no faults of anyone, but the system.

For a long time , the orphans were adopted by many well meaning foreigners across the globe.Then questions were raised in the country about the whys and wherefores of orphans being brought up in a foreign culture. There is a ban at the moment for adoption by foreigners. I understand that the ban will end in ?3 years' time when the policy will be rescinded.

I have also begun to understand the fact that toddlers as young as a year old will call anyone 'Didi'. Its a replacement word for ' mummy' . Every adult they come into contact in their young lives are all ' Didis'.. There are no mummies here. Uma's lot are very fortunate.They all call her mummy because she treats them all as her own . She says she feels guilty sometimes when she has to say to people that she has 8 orphans when in fact they are her children........

I came home today more smelly and grubby than usual.......

Friday, 11 September 2009

The Chair and Miscellaneous

What a lovely warm (normal) woman the Chair is ! She is the daughter of a very prominent politician in Nepal. She has no airs and graces, quite unusual in this part of the world , according to Uma, for someone in such a high profile position

We met her in her very grand office, in the presence of the director. We discussed the needs of the children , which are overwhelming. We agreed that two third will be spent on buying bed sheets, vests, towels, panties and ?children bra (we think its sports bra), with the remaining third to be spent on buying milk for the children . They appreciate that receipts are important to enable me to account for the money spent to the donors. It was agreed that Uma and I will buy the clothing and bedding. The director will authorise the purchase of the milk powder. At some stage, I will take photos of all the goods purchased.

During the past week. Uma and I have bought quality blankets, big towels, and placed an order for bedsheets and pillow cases for the toddlers room They will be ready for collection on Monday next. On reflection, it probably was quite an extravagant way of buying things. However, I do feel strongly that the toddlers' room where I volunteer should have the best because I am benefiting from the experience. I am so lucky to be placed in this particular room when I see the condition of other similar aged children running around in the corridor. They come from 2 other toddlers' rooms..May be its unfair to say this, it reflects the type and quality of care that these children receive on the day to day. Some of the younger ones even got caned and slapped the other day outside the corridor. I happened to be standing outside the toddlers' room taking a breather. It reminded me of Dickensian era of child care....Images of poorly clothed children with scars and scabs on their faces and bodies, running around with dripping noses.... and beaten .......
I do wonder how can there be such contrasts in child care in the same orphanage ?

I have also bought more bouncing balls for the kids because they were all fighting over them with just 4 balls amongst the 12 of them. The fact that the younger ones only know solitary play makes it impossible to have a group throw around. On the day I took the balls in, there were many prostrated little bodies lying on the floor! Each time a ball is snatched from a child, temper tantrum ensued with them throwing themselves on the floor. I almost caused a World War 3 in there. Today calmness and peace reigns with 8 balls for 12 children . Mendira told me she will be having 4 additional children after the holiday break( at the end of September onwards) with no extra resources available. Uma and I thought it will be a good idea to buy another blanket. This we will do over the weekend

Mendira was not at work yesterday due to a family problem. It meant that its only me and one other volunteer for staffing. It would seem that there is no communication between management and the front line staff. Would they still expect one volunteer to cope with 12 children in the event that only one worker turns up? How do they know if the one worker /volunteer is capable of doing the job with no support and help ? No one came to the room to find out. I found that quite worrying.... I was talking to Uma about things in general. I said that I have found working in the orphanage a little disappointing. She asked me not to compare it with the standards in the west. I have not. What I am doing is comparing the standard of her orphanage with the one at The Nepal Children centre where I am. If she can produce such good care, why can't the orphanage achieve part of her standard ? There is no minimum standards I suppose

With no Mendira, the children were all running around aimlessly. I decided that I had to take charge. So I arranged to have a play dough session. Every child climbed onto the chair , round the table , waiting for a piece of dough in his/her little hand. It goes to show how popular and creative children can be. No sooner than giving every child a piece, one or two younger ones (18 month-olds) started to sneakily put it in his /her mouth. Its because they are so vividly coloured that, it looked edible to the younger eyes .In between trying to make shapes with the older ones and rescuing bits of blue / red/ yellow play dough from a child's mouth, I was stressed for the first time since starting work in this room. The other volunteer helped a great deal. She was laughing her head off when I kept saying to the younger ones -' ni ni ni' with my fingers reaching into their mouths to take the dough out! The session lasted only 20 minutes. Its probably my longest 20 minutes since my arrival here. :( Phew ! )

I have discovered the reason for the lack of water from the taps in the toilets here. Its the fact that children have a tendency to play with water when they are unsupervised. With such a vast building -used to be a palace for Prime Minsters in the golden ages, that it is impossible to control the children's behaviour which can cost the management huge bills. They do have taps but only in designated places like kitchen and outside toilets in the teenagers' quarters . Admittedly there were clean water in the bucket in one of the toilets in the management corridor yesterday. I supposed a bucket of water will only last so long depending on the frequency of usage.I was unlucky today .

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Faith Healing Nepali style ?

I am currently suffering from a painful ? 'Frozen shoulder'. It is being treated by my GP with anti-inflammatory tablets.In the meantime, I have been going to an acupuncturist as well as having magnets put on my shoulder. It is improving, albeit very slowly. I am very impatient to wait for the total recovery. So I have asked Uma what alternative treatment can she suggest in terms of complimentary medicine here in Nepal. She suggested a faith healer whom she was told is very effective.

Here I am, having a Nepali Faith Healer to see if it works for me. I have been to her twice in 2 days. Before I went, I have this vision of some mystical human who will perform some unknown craft on me. Nothing is further from the truth . We arrived at a normal looking terrace house. A very kindly looking woman in saree greeted us at the door.It is to cost me 15 NR-about 10 pence for a 40 minute session . I paid the fee at the shrine of her worship- a little table with a picture of a Hindu god

She started by circling her hands round my head. She then pressed my forehead and crown with both her hands. She has very warm hands.I could feel the warmth radiating from her fingers even when she is not touching me physically. I noticed she has the most beautiful smooth hands with lovely pearlised manicures that I have ever seen. Interesting contrast ?

Her approach is holistic. I was asked to face the 4 directions-east ,west, north and south. Each time she would cast her hands over me like a scanner, going over my head then down each side of my body, finishing at my feet. She would concentrate and spend more time over the problem areas like my right shoulder and the upper arm. All the time I can feel the heat radiating from her hands. The only weird or rather interesting thing is that the whole of my right arm would start to tingle each time she passes her hands over it. It is as though the circulation has been rushed. At times it feels quite strong like pins and needles.

I had my first session yesterday morning I went for my second one this afternoon with no obvious side effects. I have decided that I will have about 5 sessions to see if it makes any difference . After all at 10 pence a go, I have nothing to lose really. The massage that accompanies her healing is also very soothing......

There is no issue like privacy during a session, just like in Malaysia,. There were 3 other women sitting in the open room while she is administering the healing. They were carrying on a long and involved conversation as one would. She answers her mobile phone when it rings. She also involves herself with the conversation around her. She obviously told Uma what she found out about my health. I didn't mind because it is done in the local context. Its how things are done here obviously. So fingers crossed........A new me may emerge from all this.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Incident / Observations at the Orphanage

I arrived at the orphanage early yesterday morning @ 9.45.Though I was early, I thought there would be staff around. But all I could see was kids of all ages roaming around the long empty corridors. Every room was locked including the toilets . I did my usual hello in Nepali ' Nemaste' to everyone I met. And the children responded accordingly.

Out of the various groups of youngsters who were running around, there were 5 small boys who approached me . When I said small, I meant small for size. I thought they probably are @ 6-7 years old . They were poorly clothed. Some of them have scars on their faces, others with healing scabs on their necks and arms. They asked me for something in Nepali. Obviously I did not understand . Then I realised that they probably were after some goodies which all visitors tend to bring like sweets etc. I said' ni , ni '. They then started to shout some words at me.Just as well I did not understand, but I could make out the jest of it. I panicked a bit . I started to look around for an adult, any adult who would surely have the authority to ask them to leave me alone. There was no one, but all these kids swarming round like thugs .

The time was 9.50. All the rooms were locked. I was standing on top of the stairs, near a big window. Next thing I felt my shoulder bag was being pulled. I lost my cool and jerked them off me. I shouted at them to go away.I started to put my back against the window in case they try to physically pulled my bag away. I snarled at them. I was shocked. I have not anticipated to be harangued and threatened by kids no older than ?7 ?10 years old.They had the smug look of saying 'We have almost got you! 'There was an air or menace. By the way they behaved, I guess they must be at least 10 with loads of street cred and confidence. The kids then smiled and left me .To them it was all a big joke. I swore then that I will not be early for my work here from now on . I will always arrive after 10am to avoid the scenario again. Uma has now rearranged for the taxi to pick me up at 10am from today

I realised then that no one would arrive for their duty any earlier than they need to . On the dot of 10am , one of the volunteers came duly to unlock the day room. All the toddlers waiting outside were let in . It is amazing that the toddlers from 18 months onwards would come down from the floor above (where they sleep) unaccompanied. Some of them were coming down the stairs hanging on to the wrought iron railing, one step at a time. Others with the help of a 2/3 year old holding onto nothing but each other. Its really precarious to watch. Safety in the home obviously does not exist here. However they appear none the worse. I suppose they are all have to very self reliant and independent from a very early age. I tried to carry the younger ones down to the room, but I couldn't keep up with the numbers that were arriving in quick succession.I was never more relieved when I saw Davee, one of the volunteers turned up.

It would appear that the children would have 3 meals a day , 8am breakfast; midday lunch and 5 o'clock dinner. They are then in bed @6-7pm.They have a sleep-in lady who cares for about 25-30 children in this big room with cots line up alongside one another. There are 4 rows of 5-6 cots.To compound the caring responsibilities, there are 3 teenage boys with cerebral palsy residing in the same room. They just lie there day and night. I was thankful that I was not assigned to look after any one of them.I would not know where to start if I was asked, phew !

For some reason, there is no water anywhere to wash hands after one has been to the toilet at the orphanage. On my first day, I made a mistake of going to the workers' toilet.......I then vowed that I would not drink any water from 8am onwards to avoid having to go again at the orphanage till I get home in the afternoon. On reflection, I don't think it is practical to do that. Therefore I decided to look for one which is used by the management upstairs. My reasoning being it has got to be better if they are somewhat educated.Well, how wrong can one get!. All these assumption I made with various situations, well......I discussed this lack of water for flushing the toilets and washing hands with Uma, she too cannot understand the logic behind it.

Nowadays, I carry a big bottle of water in my shoulder bag at all times. It has 3 functions .One is for self protection (I can clout someone with it if need be ), anther to drink (there is no provision for any refreshment ), and thirdly to rinse and wash my hands on my way out when I finish each day.

I think I am adjusting to this okay, all things considered

Monday, 7 September 2009

My First Day at The Orphanage

Well , at least I can say I have survived the first two days at the orphanage.

Uma came with me to the orphanage. Firstly to give me support , at the same time to request a meeting with the Chair of the Children's centre. We now have a meeting on Friday to formally discuss how the fund I have collected can help to meet some of the centre's needs. We are talking about 800 USD, more if necessary (I have always liked to keep a bit in reserve for just in case)

I am to be working in the toddlers' room for the next 3 weeks.. The children 's age range from 18 months to 3 years old ish. Interesting enough ,the 18 month- old are as big as some of the 3 year old. There are 12 children in the toddlers' day room. Apart from one paid worker, Mendira, there are 3 volunteers with me included. Mendira is a very warm Nepali woman with a relaxed and happy disposition. She is in her 40s with 2 children of her own.

One of my biggest anxieties before I started here is having to work in the orphanage for the 3 weeks without any proper communication with the workers and the children .It was a great relief to me that one speak perfect English, and the other two can understand well with little spoken English

For the first time in my life , I have to create and improvise games to play with toddlers at the various ages.The worst part is I can't tell how old they are in order to introduce age appropriate games.. This is a new concept to me. I was rather panicking . In the end I just had to go with the flow. Speaking to Uma about it in the afternoon, she was right when she said that 'don't worry about how to play with them. The children will come and play with you ' She is so right.

One of the things I learnt quickly yesterday was that all the information I acquired as a Health Visitor , then Manager about child health , supervision and training etc, they serve only as a reminder that I once was a health worker, nothing more. Any aspect of child care here bears no resemblance to what UK does. Just as well, because age is only a figure . A 4 year old looks like an 18 month old and vice versa. How then does one instigate age appropriate play? In any case, a lot of the toys are broken but still kept on display . An example is the colourful shape sorter.The main body is there with no shapes available to slot into the different holes.

We were each given a small piece of blue play dough to make shapes. It was such a small piece that it is not possible to do anything . Then the children sitting round the table started to snatch from one another. They began to cry . I discovered that the dough was so old that it was sticking to the table and it had to be literally scrapped off. There was only one pot anyway. I understand it was given by a foreign volunteer some while back. It has really past its sell by date.

So, while I need to do the official thing about making the fund available for the orphanage per say, the fact that I am working in the toddlers' room means that I would like to benefit the children in the room as well .I had a discussion with Mendira and the volunteers. They said that a supply of play dough, beads(to thread ), soft ball of various sizes, fragrant sprays for the room will be a good start. They asked whether I could stipulate that fruit and milk could be delivered to the toddlers' room regardless whether they are in short supply or not. I said I will try when I meet the chair on Friday. It would appear that whenever they are short of funds, the milk and fruit are cut from their diet from say 3 times a day to maybe once only.They all said that the best thing I can do for the children in the room is to guarantee them fruit and milk !

Uma and I went out this afternoon looking for the verious items.The only thing we could not find is the beads, So we 'll try another day. They will be happy with what we managed to get I am sure

A very satisfying day today. This is because I have managed to find my way home on a bus, costing me only 20 NR, as opposed to 180-200NR if I were to go home by a taxi. I accept thatI will have to pay 150NR (Uma threatens the driver ) to take me to the Orphanage in the morning. It will give me a stress free start to the day However it will be rather extravagant of me and immoral to pay @350NR (=3-4 pounds ) each day just to go to work and back. An avarage monthly Nepali pay is only @ 14000NR. I walked all the way home yesterday because I could'nt figure out how to take a bus from the orphanage. It took me over 2 hours to get home. It was a long walk! Mendira explained to me the bus route etc today. So I thought 'hmm.... another challenge '. When I walked in through the door an hour an a half earlier than yesterday, even Uma was impressed

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Walking @ Kathmandu

Emily (Korean American volunteer ) and I decided that we will take a walk to see the Royal Palace, at the sametime, take in the Durbur Square, a popular local Hindu holy place on the way.
We set out@ 9 am and got back @ 3pm.We must have walked a round trip10-12 kms today . With the sun beating down on our way back, we were wilting fast .Emily was plying me with ice lolly to keep me going

We spent 80 percent of the time walking. At 1pm, we decided enough is enough that we needed rescuing from ourselves. We were in the ' West End' of town, therefore we were able to find a rather posh tourist cafe cum snack bar. We had a very delicious meal of chicken noodles, cheese and chicken puff plus drinks. It was quite an expensive meal by all accounts. The bill came to 290NR , a princely sum of approximately two pounds fifty to you and I. And it is air conditioned as well.

While we were out, we walked to the Nepal Children Organisation, the orphanage where I'll be working from tomorrow onwards. The idea is to see how walkable it is after I finish there each day.It is about 5/6 kms away from Uma's house. Uma agrees with me that I will need to get a taxi there each morning @9.30.The walk itself will take up to hour and a half. Depending on how I feel after I finish my shift, I can either walk all the way back or walk half way before getting a taxi home.It feels like a long way when we were walking this morning. However it seems quite a short journey on the way back . So I shall reserve judgement and see what happens tomorrow. Uma thought it is a good idea not to kill myself while working at the orphanage.Therefore I will only work 5 days a week, and finish each day @2-3pm depending on the needs of the children. I totally agree with her on that

Uma and I will be there for 10 am tomorrow to meet with the director. We will probably touch on things which they need for the orphanage and agree on ways of purchasing them .I have asked Uma to explain to the orphanage how we have done it in the previous tear. And that I am not going to just hand over the donation to them to do whatever. I feel slightly apprehensive. Its because I will be dealing with a big organisation (hopefully not too bureaucratic ) and not a personal one like Uma's where I have built up a good working relationship. I am entering uncharted water with this organisation . I am less clear about the values of this big institute. Anyhow, I shall find out during the course of next 3 weeks or so

During our walkabout, we met a very friendly police superintendent.It started when he said his daughter would like to know whether we are Japanese? or Chinese? We told him that we are Chinese and Korean. The daughter then smiled and said ' Nihao' -its hello in Chinese Once she said it, typically of children, she rode away quickly because she felt bashful. She was so sweet The Nepali are such warm and friendly people.It was lovely to experience that

The police superintendent was off duty in his mufti. He was escorting his young daughter (?8-9 years old) learning to cycle on the main road. She looked really precarious trying to ride and balance herself on the road when all the big lorries and cars were whizzing her by. The father is walking on the outside of her , trying to protect her from the traffic . Consequently, he was almost nearing the middle of the road ! Whether he thinks he is immuned to being run over because he is the police superintendent there, I have no idea. But the whole thing seems fool hardy to me.

In between his dodging the traffic and encouraging his daughter to ride, he was telling us that he was in Bath in Uk for a conference recently.The family was on holiday in China not long ago. That's why the daughter knows the common greetings etc All the while, Emily and I were sticking to walking on the broken pavement strewn with sleeping dogs and piles of rotting rubbish and vegetation. It felt like an obstacle course but with no risk of run over by cars.

Alas,I missed the opportunity of claiming to know some VIPs in Nepal when I forgot to ask for his name and contact address. I would think that its very handy to have useful contacts like a police superintendent in this part of the world should one need help ..... . Oh well I missed my chance there. All the same, he was very kind to walk us to the orphanage to make sure we didn't lose our way

All in all , a very good but tiring day. But my poor feet or rather toes..........

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Returning to Kathmandu

After a rather long winded but pleasant journey I have arrived at Uma's.

Qatar Airline is a better flyer than Gulf Air in every aspect. Food and seating were good. I had the best lamb biriyani for lunch yesterday while in the air. To top it all I was upgraded to the bussiness class on the second leg- Doha to Kathmandu. Its the fourth airline I have had the good fortune to experience how the other half live or rather fly. Do you know the reclining chair is actually a massage cum sleeping chair ? I think I was the last to leave the plane on arrival at Kathmandu! The Doha airport is everything I imagine a wealthy Arab state would be--new, spacious, shinny and modern of international standard. It is so different from Abu Dhabi last year.

The children have grown taller and prettier since I was here last. The 2 new ones appeared to have settled in well with their new siblings. They were doing the skipping rope routine this afternoon. It was hilarious to watch some of them trying to hop on one leg. Sitting on the steps with the sun going down behind the trees, Uma and I talked about the children's needs and how she sees their future developing. I have a real sense that this is where the children belong. The thing which struck me is that they seem to have an almost normal childhood as most children. All things being equal,I don't think we could ask for much more.

I am back to the same room, but a lot more furnished and somewhat cleaner. There are 2 young volunteers placed with Uma One is from Canada doing her gap year before uni, and the other a Korean American doing a similar thing having finished uni. They go to school with the children, then help with their reading and homework in the afternoon.

It may not have been a good idea, but I walked to the hospital this morning to see the 3 nurses in the HIV/Aids clinic. They are on national strike. They have 12 demands, some of which are pretty basic like the specialist nurses should be remunerated accordingly; and that their uniform allowance (they have to buy their own uniforms ) should be increased by ? 2000NR
I found them sitting with their senior nursing colleagues in front of the Emergency department.
The paramedics are in charge of the emergency department while the strike is going on . They are doing 2 days' sit- out(or sit-in ) until the government gives in to their demands. I did ask what will happen if the government refuses their demand. They muttered under their breath that they hope it won't.

I feel shattered totally. I suppose the body clock has not quite adjusted yet, first day following the long journey. It was a bit silly to to the 3/4 mile round trip to the hospital. Oh well,,,,,,,