Happy New Year!

Has it really been over a month since I last wrote? This Friday, I will have officially been in Cambodia for two months – and I know that’s not long, but time has absolutely flown by.

This past weekend was Khmer New Year, and after a quick Google search I found out that that Cambodians sometimes count the year based on the Bhuddist calendar – which would make this year 2560 BE (Buddha Era). Just to be clear, I was in Nepal last April when they also celebrated the New Year, welcoming in 2072. So in the past year, I’ve celebrated 2072, 2016 and 2560. Not too shabby.

The new year celebrations lasted over 5 days and consisted of Khmer dancing, really great music, getting soaked by water guns, being covered in baby powder, and – my favourite – fireworks over the river. It’s a tradition for children to throw water at you as you’re riding past on your bicycle or moto and sometimes, they’ll even put baby powder on your cheeks.

So, picture this. Me. Just riding back from work – with my laptop might I add – and getting relentlessly soaked with 5 buckets of water being poured over me at once. Some of the water is ice cold and refreshing, while the rest has become acclimatized to the 40-degree heat.

But it’s all in good fun, and I had a really great time celebrating Khmer New Year with my friends in Battambang.

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Battambang, oh how I love this city. It lacks the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh and the flocks of tourists in Siem Reap. It has a quiet charm that pulls you in with its quirky restaurants and friendly residents. Not to mention all its pagodas and statues.

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I’ve tried so many new things here that I never would have done back in Canada – soccer (I’m not much coordinated for this), Khmer dancing (see previous note), and Khmer cooking.

Khmer cooking has to be my absolute favourite. There are a few restaurants to take cooking classes at – so my friends and I opted for one called ‘Nary’s Kitchen’ (which I heard was the ‘original cooking class of Battambang’). We paid ten dollars to cook a 4-course meal, along with a trip to the market to see where to buy the vegetables. Going to the market was especially helpful for me because I do a lot of cooking in my apartment and it can sometimes be difficult to navigate your way around the market where there are vegetables, next to live eels, next to hanging chickens – it’s a diverse place.

The first dish we made was called fish amok, which is fish in a blend of spices and coconut milk. It’s served in a cute little leaf bowl. The second dish we made was beef (or in my case tofu) lok lak, which again, is an amazing sauce that covers the tofu. It also had a bit of a kick to it. We then made spring rolls, and all I can say is: yum. For dessert we made bananas in tapioca and coconut milk, which was also delicious.

 

We also went to Cambodia’s notorious (ly bad) one and only vineyard. We read things about the vineyard before we went, knowing that it was famous for producing not so great wine. And all the guidebooks said: don’t make a special trip out there. What did we do? We made a special trip. It’s about 45 minutes outside the city and on a tuk tuk, it’s really quite a nice ride. We were half expecting to see miles of grapes, but apparently they grow their grapes in different locations and only have some at the main tasting room. It was.. umm.. interesting. Probably unlike any wine I’ve ever tasted. I give them a lot of credit for growing grapes in Cambodia with the hot climate – their grape juice was quite good!

 

In other news, I am taking my vacation next week. Visa and flight to Myanmar: check! I’m very excited, it’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit. Tanner also arrives in less than 24 hours – and I already have a Cambodian beer cooling in the fridge for his arrival!

Cambodia, Kingdom of Wonder

Oh, Cambodia – Kingdom of Wonder. And that, it most certainly is. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for three weeks now – time has just flown by!

I flew into Phnom Penh airport on February 20, after a short layover in Taipei. Can I just say, that the Taipei airport is very interesting. They have themed waiting rooms, which I perused during my 4-hour layover, including a book themed room! My heaven.

I arrived in Phnom Penh on Sunday at around noon, and although I was tired, I only had a day in Phnom Penh and wanted to do some sightseeing. I hired a tuk tuk driver for the day and he took me to the Russian market, where I bought a nice little painting of Angkor Wat. I also went to the Killing Fields, which had a great impact on me. It’s difficult to give words to what the Khmer Rouge did in the 1970s; I cannot believe what the Cambodian people experienced during its regime. If you ever travel to Cambodia, it’s paramount that you visit the Killing Fields – it’s incredibly eye-opening.

On Monday morning, I took the 8 a.m. bus from Phnom Penh to Battambang, the city where I’m living. It was a five hour bus ride that was bumpy, to say the least. But I was thrilled when we finally arrived in Battambang. After I checked into my hotel, I walked around the city, which I fell in love with instantly. It’s a relaxed, riverside town with trendy shops and restaurants. Art galleries are scattered throughout the city, each depicting their own colourful style of paintings and sculptures. It is not that busy, and the traffic isn’t that bad – one of my colleagues joked that a traffic jam in Battambang is a line-up of three cars. While, I’ve had some difficulty navigating the traffic, it’s not nearly as hectic as I thought it would be. The NGO I’m working for gave me a bike, which I’ve been riding absolutely everywhere.

The first weekend after I started work, I went to Siem Reap with some colleagues. Although I didn’t have time to see Angkor Wat (I’m saving it for next time!) I did see some beautiful temples. On Saturday, I saw Banteay Srei, which means ‘Citadel of the Women’ and is said to have been built by women. The temple is cut from pinkish stone, which gives it a beautiful hue and allows the intricate stone carvings to stand out.

My favourite temple, however, was Kbal Spean, a spectacularly carved riverbed set deep in the jungle. It was quite a journey, and took us about 1.5 hours to get there by tuk tuk. But the tuk tuk ride was a welcome respite, because after standing in 30+ sun, it felt nice to have the wind in my face. What I really loved about this temple was that it was a 2km hike to the top. The jungle was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before – roots wound their way in the most unusual and surreal patterns and you had to take extra care not to trip on anything. A problem, since I was wearing flip flops!

 

Last weekend, I also did some sightseeing in Battambang. One of the major tourist attractions here is the bamboo train. It was amazing. It’s an old railroad track that was previously used for transport, but is now mainly a tourist novelty. The train itself is made of four pieces: two wheels that look like barbells, a bamboo sheet for you to sit on, and an elastic strap holding this all together. I know this because if somebody is coming down the tracks on a train towards you, you have to get off the train, they quickly dissemble it and let the other train pass. And these trains go surprisingly fast! I couldn’t believe it – it felt like I was on a ride at a theme park.

 

Another touristy thing I did last weekend was visit the Battambang bat caves. Hands down, one of the coolest things I’ve seen. There’s a hill that you can climb up where there’s a handful of different temples at the top. And, you get beautiful views of the countryside.

 

There’s also a rickety ladder you can climb to see a giant Buddha head carved of stone.

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Then, at around 6 p.m. thousands upon thousands of bats fly out of a cave cut in the side of the mountain. They leave the cave at sunset to hunt in the rice fields, and then return at sunrise. It was absolutely breathtaking. Our tuk tuk driver even took us to the rice fields after to see the long line of bats darkening the sky – it went on for miles.

 

As for my daily life in Battambang, it’s very laid back. I found a beautiful single apartment near my office, which I’ve already settled into. I’ve been reading a lot too and I just finished Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. It’s been on my list for ages, so I’m happy that I was finally able to read it – and let me just say, it definitely lived up to the hype. It also really got me thinking about our dependency on technology in today’s society. Too often, people are glued to their screens that they don’t experience the world going on around them. I’m just as guilty of this as the next person; however, I am trying to experience more and scroll through my iPhone less. Fahrenheit was published in the 1950s, but I think it’s very prolific of today’s society. And, fun fact (!), when Bradbury wrote the book, he called the fire station and asked: “at what temperature does paper burn?” The fireman replied: “Fahrenheit 451.” This is how the book got its name.

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What I’m trying to say is that I want to experience my time in Cambodia as fully as I possibly can in these next 6 months!

 

 

Anna Abroad

It’s been a while since I’ve written my last blog post. I apologize to all my readers who followed my journey in Nepal – I never had an opportunity to thank you for interest and support, especially during and after the earthquake. A lot has happened in the last year. I took chances, I met new friends, I laughed, I cried, and most importantly, I found myself. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss Nepal and the friends and colleagues that I met while at the UNDP. Nepal impacted me deeply and will never be far from my heart. After the earthquake, many people asked me how they could assist Nepal as it recovers from one of the most devastating natural disasters of our decade. My answer is this: go there. Go to Nepal, experience its beauty for yourself, get to know the amazing people, and eat the delicious food. Be a tourist in one of the most unique places on our planet and help its economy flourish. You’ll fall in love, I promise you that.

And now, I’m doing it all over again, and I have the opportunity to fall in love with another country as I fell in love with Nepal. On February 20, I am moving to Cambodia for six months. I got a job in Battambang, Cambodia, and will be the Communications Coordinator at the Cambodian Children’s Trust. I feel extremely lucky and proud to be part of a team that provides education, community development and employment to enable Cambodians to break free of the poverty cycle. Here’s the link if you would like to read more: https://www.cambodianchildrenstrust.org. I highly recommend watching the ‘House of Tara’ video – it’s an inspiring story that everyone should hear.

I have changed this blog from ‘Anna in Nepal’ to ‘Anna Abroad’ (I’m not very creative with titles) to document my new experiences. Like my previous blog, I will post photos and write-ups over the next six months in Cambodia. So stay tuned and I hope you enjoy following the journey. And as always, thank you for reading.

Colour in the Darkness

It has now been one month since the initial earthquake in Nepal. So much has happened in those 30 days. My thoughts are with everybody in Nepal, and with those who lost loved ones and their homes. The most affected areas in Nepal are the remote villages that are not easily accessible and, as a result, difficult to deliver aid to. The road forward will be difficult, but I have no doubt that Nepal – with its amazing people – will move forward.

I wrote a reflection for my programme in Canada that focuses more on my experiences during and after the earthquake. I submitted it to a local paper, which they then published. I have been avoiding interviews/media since being home, but I wrote this and submitted it for publishing so that people could read about what Nepal is like and about the compassion of its people. Here is the link to the article: http://www.cowichanvalleycitizen.com/living/cowichan-woman-stupefied-when-earthquake-struck-nepal-1.1943748 , but I will copy and paste the text below.

They told us to watch the birds. It might be animal sense or pure superstition, but somehow the birds could sense the earthquake. A swarm of birds would darken the already ominous sky a moment before the shaking started.

I watched the birds. In unison, they flew up from the trees and formed a big black cloud. The aftershock hit.

***

April 25, Saturday, 11:56 a.m.

I remember when the earth started shaking. At first, it was a low rumble, like there was a very large plane flying low and close to the ground. But as I looked out the window I saw the buildings outside swaying like grass in the wind. Then, the earth erupted. Think of how it feels to be on a boat, rolling in the waves. I was on a boat about to capsize. That’s what it felt like.

All my earthquake training – drop! cover! and hold! – was erased from my mind as I watched people stampede from the restaurant. I was stupefied and I certainly did not drop, cover and hold, but merely went to the wall away from people, pots and chandeliers. You never know how you’ll react in a situation like this. You can prepare, you can know exactly what to do; yet, when you’re thrust headfirst into the moment of truth you have no idea how you’ll react.

The funny thing is, my office had an earthquake drill five days before the real one. Of course, everybody treats it as a fire drill and never thinks it will happen any time soon. I was aware that Nepal was expecting the “big one”, and it was always at the back of my mind, but I never thought it would happen while I was there for my six-month placement. But that’s the scary thing; you never know when it’s going to happen. Even now when I am no longer in Nepal, it still feels like the earth is shaking. I know it’s not shaking; however, after having experiencing aftershocks for days on end it’s difficult to adjust to solid, unmoving ground.

It has taken me a while to write down my experiences following the earthquake, mostly because I am at a loss for words and I know that people are still living this nightmare. I am fortunate because I was safe with food, water and shelter. My friends are all safe and my colleagues are all accounted for. For five nights following the earthquake I slept on the ground, being replenished (on the first three days at least) by chips and cookies. But I feel incredibly fortunate because I saw how kind the human heart is. I saw how people come together in a time of crisis and show untainted and unselfish altruistic kindness for another human. I met countless new friends, and there’s no doubt that the people I camped with in the UNICEF building will be my best friends for life. There’s an unspoken bond that is unbreakable when you go through something like this.

I want people to know about Nepal before the earthquake. It seems as though it was a country often overlooked, wedged between China and India, and only talked about in terms of Everest. The international response after the earthquake has been overwhelming, and I talked to one Nepali friend who was humbled and touched by the world coming to help his small, landlocked country.

Everything about Nepal is colourful. The temples. The stupas. The people. Bordered by red cloth, you would see the temples pointed to the sky in the cultural hubs of Patan, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur Durbar squares. They were places of worship, places where tourists would spend the day milling around and eating on rooftop terraces. They were places where you would see holy men beside young artists sketching the beauty of urban life. I’m using past tense, but these things can be rebuilt and restored.

It is the human loss that is truly devastating.

The people of Nepal are the most amazing and compassionate people I have ever met. After the earthquake, my Nepali friends and colleagues were genuinely concerned about my wellbeing while they were also going through the same tragedy.

I had one of my colleagues give me the money in his pocket because I was running out and the ATMs weren’t working. Another friend of mine promised to drive me to the airport when I was worried about a fuel shortage. I have so many stories like this.

Five days after the earthquake, I took a walk with a couple of my friends. We saw how life was beginning to return to normal as shops were opening and people were riding their motorcycles down recently empty roads. I was only in Nepal for four short months, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to see such a tragedy occur to your own country, the place where you grew up. Still, there were smiles -smiles that lit up my bleak world on the dark days following the earthquake. It made everything colourful again.

When I talk about my experiences following the earthquake, I don’t want to remember the fear I felt, or that constant lump in my throat. I want to remember the beauty of Nepal and its people. I know that one day I’ll be back.

On May 12 I heard of another 7.3 earthquake that hit Nepal. This news is absolutely devastating. Keep all the brave people in Nepal in your thoughts and prayers. I will never forget my brave friends who stayed to help with the relief effort, and the millions of Nepalis who are rebuilding their lives while helping others. They are the special ones – their stories are the ones you should hear.

So as the media moves on, please hold a special spot in your heart for Nepal. It is truly a spectacular place.

Still, there is kindness

Sometimes, on a clear day, you can see the Himalayas. When the haze and fog and dust lifts, torn up into the sky by descending rainclouds the massive white peaks take your breath away. They tower over Kathmandu like watchful guardians, reminding us of the beauty, tranquility, and power of nature in the bustling and overcrowded streets of Nepal’s capital.

I saw the Himalayas on April 30. The day I left Kathmandu. The day I was driven to the airport by a selfless Nepali friend who was taking me away from the city while he stayed. I went with my other Canadian friend who is in the same programme as I. While we were at the airport we were scared another aftershock would hit, preventing us from leaving the city. Every loud noise we heard, every vibration we felt from the runway, we held hands – worried that the ground would once again erupt. It was like the movie “Argo”, about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, in the scene where the Americans clear Iranian airspace and begin to cry tears of relief. I don’t think I was able to breath easy until that plane took off from the Kathmandu runway. I was sitting beside my friend even though our seats weren’t actually together. The plane was half empty because the airline increased their prices. On Monday I looked for a flight to Dubai leaving Wednesday and the price was CAD4000. I was fortunate that when I booked my flight to Canada for Thursday, prices were still affordable.

I have been reluctant to write about my experience in Nepal following the earthquake, mostly because I don’t know what to say. I am safe in Canada now with my family, but I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m incredibly lucky. I came out of the initial earthquake with a little bump on my head, I had shelter, I was able to get food, and I had drinking water. I was able to fly out of Kathmandu.

I feel guilty. So incredibly guilty that I can afford to get on a plane and fly to another country, while millions of Nepalis lost their homes and their loved ones and are still living outside. I can talk about my experience, but it’s not my experience that really matters – it’s the millions of Nepalis whose lives were upturned with the shaking at 11:56 on Saturday morning and who must now work to rebuild them. I want to talk about them. About the kindness I experienced, not the fear. Not just of Nepalis, but of all people following the disaster.

I was alone during the earthquake. I was at an Israeli restaurant where I had taken my shoes off and was sitting on the floor. Because there were not many places to duck under, I hit my head. In hindsight, it was nothing serious but because I didn’t know what hit me, I was worried about a head injury. I found some people to wait outside with while we rode out the big aftershocks. This 20 year-old Swiss woman – a true angel – was worried about my head. She insisted that she come with me back to the UN House (my assembly point in a disaster). The UN House is about a 15 minute taxi ride from where I was. I didn’t want to walk because I was worried about power lines. I told the woman not to come with me, to stay in the open space and stay safe. But she insisted. We found a taxi who agreed to take us to the UN House.

I asked him how much it would be. He said, “in these situations, it doesn’t even matter.” Anyone who has been to Nepal will understand that there’s constant negotiating and foreigners are always asked for much higher prices when it comes to taxis. His kindness made me want to cry.

As we were driving back, there were thousands of people on the street. Nobody knew what to do. I didn’t see any responders. The Swiss woman came all the way back to the UN with me and we sat together for hours. I have so much gratitude and admiration for her. She is so brave.

There was another woman, a Nepali. On Tuesday some little family restaurants were opening and we were able to find a restaurant serving rice and lentils. There were four of us. She gave us HUGE portions, but we were so hungry we kept eating. She kept bringing us out more food with a huge smile on her face. Eventually we asked her to stop because we felt bad taking food away from others. The bill came to 400 rupees for the four of us – roughly $1 each.

There was my colleague, a Nepali man. He saw me sitting on the curb of the UN House, distressed. He told me that some restaurants were starting to open so we could get hot food. I told him that I had no money and the ATM wasn’t working. He went into his pocket and gave me all the money in it. I said no, please don’t. But he insisted.

Then there was my landlord, who is also one of my good friends. When I was worried about a fuel shortage and getting to the airport he offered to drive me. He offered on Monday, but my flight was on Thursday. To him, there was no question that he would help me get to the airport. I thanked him countless times, but I don’t think he will ever know how grateful I actually am.

And there was everybody at the UN. The UNICEF staff who let me camp out in their office because I was scared to go home. One employee always made sure we had food and continuously checked in on us – by us I mean me, three other Canadians and one Chinese. I tried to help with the effort as much as possible and did odd jobs around the office like photocopying and printing, and then started to help with the UN coordination of the relief teams. We set up a little tent and joked that it was the Canadian Embassy because there is no embassy in Kathmandu, merely one Consular who was turning Canadians away. But seeing all the relief teams made me realize how selfless and giving the human heart can be. These people, who flew in as soon as they heard, are part of teams that respond to disasters for a living. It is so brave.

I also cannot end this blog post without mentioning my family and friends who reached out to me immediately after the earthquake. I had family in BC and Alberta on the phone constantly with the Canadian Government trying to get information – a task that is much harder than it actually sounds. I had internet at the UN House so I was able to email and iMessage my family and friends. To those who stayed up with me during the night (both my night and Canadian night) – you know who you are – I am speechless. In those dark moments, that communication helped me more than you know. Thank you.

If you would like to make a donation, the Red Cross, Oxfam and UNDP Nepal are all great organizations.  The UNDP donation page can be found here: https://app.mobilecause.com/public/campaigns_keywords/21329/donations/new

So please remember those who stayed. Those who are still there. As the news moves onto stories of royal babies and celebrities, please don’t forget about Nepal. Its people and its mountains make it one of the most beautiful countries in the world. The Himalayas serve as a vibrant reminder of the beauty and power that mother nature holds. But the people – the pure kindness and love of people – show me that they will band together when that power tries to overcome us.

Juju Dhau (King Curd)

Happy April! At this point, I’m almost half way done my placement, which is so hard to believe. It’s even more difficult to fathom that I graduated from Colgate almost a year ago. This time last year my mind was consumed with papers, exams and graduation. I had no idea that I would be in Nepal working for the United Nations in a year’s time. It’s funny how things work out.

A lot has happened in the last few weeks – I’m sorry about my lack of blog posts, things have just been hectic as I’ve been moving apartments/offices and been busy at work. A few weeks ago I went on a picnic with UNDP, UN Women, and UNFPA staff. The picnic was on a Saturday from 8 30 to 5 outside Kathmandu. I was really excited to travel outside Kathmandu for the first time and see the countryside. I definitely noticed a difference in air quality – it was much fresher and I gladly took many deep breaths. The picnic consisted of games and activities. But my favourite part of the day was the activity that wasn’t planned – that is, when we hiked up a hill beside the picnic site. It was no Himalayan trek, but it was nice to finally be hiking again. I went with a group of colleagues and we literally created our own trail up the steep hill side, scaling dust, pinecones and thorns. On the way down, though, we seemed to find the proper trail that made it much easier to descend.

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Another great part of the day was the home-cooked lunch of Dhal Bhat. My favourite Nepali food (along with momos). I talked about it in a previous post, but it is seriously so delicious. I’ve actually looked at the (3) Nepali restaurants in Vancouver to see if they have the popular dish on their menus. So far, I found one restaurant that has it (Café Kathmandu) but it is $15 compared to the $2 you can get it in Nepal for.

I’m also very happy this week because I have a visitor! My boyfriend, Tanner, flew halfway across the world to visit. He arrived on Sunday and I think I’ve done more sightseeing since he’s been here than the entire time I’ve been in Kathmandu. We went to a city called Bhaktapur earlier this week. Kathmandu valley is made up of three cities: Kathmandu, Lalitpur (Patan) and Bhaktapur. Lalitpur is the city I live in, which is separated from Kathmandu by the Bagmati River. Lalitpur means ‘City of Beauty’ and it has some of the most amazing temples in its Patan Durbar Square. I’ve been to the square twice already and I hope to go back soon with a sketch book to join the many artists drawing on the temple steps. Bhaktapur is the third of the three medieval city-states and is very well preserved. Bhaktapur takes you back in time as you see locals spinning pottery, playing chess, and you glimpse towering temples and narrow cobblestone streets. It’s about a 40 minute tax ride outside Kathmandu (with traffic) at a whopping Rs 800 (USD $8) fare.

Bhaktapur is also known for its Juju Dhau (king curd) – a.k.a. yoghurt. Trying Bhaktapur’s famed curd was one of my main incentives for going to the city. I was not disappointed. If you’re a yoghurt fanatic like me you’d love this sweetened treat. I’m going to definitely try and revisit Bhaktapur again before I leave – if just for the yoghurt.

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Tanner and I also had possibly the best momos in Kathmandu. Momos are steamed dumplings filled with vegetables or meat (depending on how you’d like it). They can also come fried if you order them Tibetan style. They are the quintessential

Nepali food – a true staple. You can get them at any of the Nepali restaurants in Vancouver. We found a restaurant in my Lonely Planet called Yangling that claimed to have the best momos in Kathmandu and they did not disappoint. We also got a delicious Tibetan soup with vegetables and noodles.

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I leave for Malaysia with Tanner on Sunday at 10 p.m. I excited to see another party of Asia! I love Nepal, but it will be nice to travel around a bit. The resort we’re staying at near the beach is also a sea turtle sanctuary so expect some cute critters soon!

International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day! March 8 signifies an extremely important day for gender equality. While every day should be devoted to women’s rights and gender equality, today we are reminded of both the notable milestones humanity has made towards this issue, but also of the many steps we must take to achieve the goal of ultimate gender equality. It is unfortunate that I don’t think I’ll see this in my lifetime, but it is my hope that society can one day achieve this goal. International Women’s Day doesn’t mean we have to have a party, or a massive event to commemorate the day; rather, it is a chance to raise awareness, to foster discussion, and to become mindful of gross gender inequality still present in the world. To me, a world of utter gender equality isn’t unique to women’s rights; it is a world in which men and women alike can exist without stereotypes, without stigmas, and without anything holding them back to achieve what they want in life.

The world has seen significant advances in gender equality – more women are now educated, are holding professional jobs, and have greater independence in their lives. This doesn’t mean that we can stop the fight. It only means that we have to ignite it further. Take a look at Helen Clark’s statement that she made about women’s day: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/speeches/2015/03/08/helen-clark-statement-on-international-women-s-day-/.  She’s the Administrator of the UNDP, as well as the former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Please take a moment to follow @RBC and retweet their International Women’s Day post to express your thoughts/comments about women’s rights and International Women’s Day with #RBCIWD. For every retweet, RBC has generously offered to donate $2 to the United Nations Association of Canada. It’s a great cause and it keeps the conversation going.

There was another important and special day this week and that was Holi! I know all my Colgate friends will know what I’m talking about because Colgate always had a Holi event to celebrate Indian and Nepali culture. On Thursday, people in Kathmandu celebrated Holi in a mist of colours. With enthusiasm and mirth, people threw water on fellow participants and smeared coloured paint on their faces. According to tradition, Holi commemorates the victory of good over evil. The story goes that Prahlad (the devoted worshipper of Lord Vishnu) was saved when the demon king Hiranyakashyap’s sister, Holika, threw him into a burning fire. It is also said that the festival signifies the end of winter and the beginning of summer. This I have no doubt about, because the sun has been blazing down creating temperatures upwards of 25 Celsius the last few days.

As I was walking to work the other day I was focused on not getting hit by traffic, when I looked to my right and saw a giant elephant just walking down the street! It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen here. It’s also the most interesting animal I’ve seen on the street. Sure I’ve seen monkeys (including one on a leash riding a guy’s shoulder), cows, dogs, and buffalo, but this is the first elephant I’ve seen! There were two men riding it and it was carrying leaves and twigs. At first I was shocked and asked myself: “Where is this elephant going? Where does it live?” But later, I found out that it’s Kathmandu’s only elephant, residing in the Kathmandu zoo. The zookeepers ride it to get its food every so often. I feel like the locals weren’t as impressed as I was, because barely anybody batted an eye.

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In a previous post of mine, I posted photos of the Boudnath temple – the large stupa in Kathmandu. I sat down the other night to sketch it. I love sketching buildings, temples, architecture, etc., but this was quite unlike anything I’ve done before! I’ll definitely be doing some paintings, I feel like the sketch didn’t bring the colourful Tibetan flags to life.

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This weekend was a lot of fun. Now that I’m meeting more friends, I’m beginning to see the city and experience places I would have never ventured to otherwise. That is precisely why I love living abroad for extended periods of time. Every Saturday, for instance, there’s a popular farmer’s market near Thamel. I try to go most Saturdays to pick up my favourite items: bread, cheese, dried fruit, and vegetables. Nepal is also known for its custom tailoring. For a while now, I’ve wanted to get some custom clothes tailored, especially a suit because it’s probably a seventh of the price of what you’d pay in Canada. The problem was, I had no idea what tailor to go to in the sea of shops. Some of my friends here use a specific tailor so I went along with them on Saturday to meet him and see his work. His stuff was great, so I’ll probably use him for a few items!

On Saturday night, I went out for traditional Newari food, which is a type of Nepali food, with some friends. It was a vegetarian’s dream. It was a huge plate that came with lentils, peanuts, paneer, spinach, a potato cake, and frankly, some delicious but unidentified items. This entire plate was about $3. I love Nepal.

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On another note, Tanner and I officially booked our flights to Malaysia. We’ll be spending 4 days at the beach and 3 or four days at the Cameron Highlands, a tea plantation. We’re leaving April 5 and returning the 13. I can’t wait!