Minutes after I published our last written blogpost, we hauled our bags down the five flights of stairs at Chunta’s apartment and piled them, along with the four of us, Pradeep, Ram, and our driver into a small backcountry jeep. We drove through countless winding streets, many deserted because of the petrol blockade, and burst forth into the beautiful fields and scattered buildings that surround the stifling city. Seven hours later, in a ride that was marked most memorably by poor Pradeep losing his lunch violently all over the back of the jeep, we arrived at our actual jumping off point: Syabru Besi.
The following 15 days were spent climbing up into the mountains, through the most remote regions we could access in that limited time and following trails that few foreigners had traveled since Maoist insurgents had made them impassible 20+ years ago. From the beginning, we had a very limited idea of what to expect and attempted to prepare for the worst case scenario in advance by carrying what food, shelter, and emergency supplies we might need along the way. To aid in this endeavor, we enlisted the help of four faithful porters: Gukarna, Ramesh, Kumar, and Anil, and one less than faithful cook, Tek; who never actually did any cooking… In total, we passed through 4 districts: Nuwakot, Rasuwa, Dhading, and Ghorka, traveling an average of 8 miles a day over mountainous terrain and hazardous landslides, climbing several 12-13,000ft passes, and sleeping on any flat ground – a valuable commodity in a country that goes from sea level to 29,000ft in less distance than lies between Spokane and Seattle – that we had the luck to find.
Yet 15 days is far to short a time to understand one small village, let alone 11; each more unique than the last, and all separated from any outside contact by miles of mountainous terrain. Our goal for this trip was to assess CCF’s work in 5-6 communities which we had provided various forms of immediate aid to following the earthquake, and survey where else we might be of service in the future. The process of doing so was heartbreaking. We saw hundreds of homes reduced to piles of rubble, families of four or more living in tarp tents that were close to six months old, individuals without even a clue of what the future would bring.
Together, Grant and I had the task of talking with these men, women, and children, in order to formulate appropriate recommendations to the board of CCF as to what our next steps should look like. Before beginning our trek – before we even arrived in Nepal – we had arranged a set of questions to ask in just such a situation, yet it was apparent from our very first interview that these would have to be heavily modified and adjusted. Our initial questions had been based on the assumption that we would move fluidly from one person to the next, asking a relatively standard set of questions to generate largely quantitative information. Yet the people with whom we talked could not be clinically quizzed on the aid they received, in what time, and from whom. When asked what their biggest need was at the moment, many said that they simply wanted to invite us into their tin shelter for a cup of milk tea. So from village to village we amended a new set of questions that we began from scratch. The final result looked more like a list of open ended conversational prompts than any formal survey or interview, but the reactions and responses we received were more heartfelt and heartbreaking than we ever could have expected.
So we have returned, overwhelmed with information, but with a more realistic perspective on the obstacles the obstacles faced by those we seek to assist. Now we begin the process of attempting to overcome these obstacles. After climbing back up the final flights of stairs with our now familiar bags to greet a warmly welcoming Chunta, we shrugged off our packs one final time and rushed to wash away two weeks of grime and sweat before sitting downto begin the long process of restoring hope!
Thank you all for your support and stay tuned for more posts in the next couple days!
Thank you so much for watching and please leave us a comment below with any questions or thoughts you have!
With much love and appreciation,
Grant & Cameron
I have just a few minutes to spare before we hop into our jeep and head off on the next leg of our journey so I apologize for allocating such little attention to a subject which deserves a great deal. Our destination today will be the village of Syabru Besi in lower Rasuwa, from there we will unload our bags and begin the long trek through the districts of Rasuwa and Dhading along the Tamong Herritage Trail and beyond, hopefully reaching the village of Baseri by October 24th. This trek will test all that we have done so far.
Though we have spent close to five months researching how and where CCF can be most effective, no amount of desk research can decisively tell us the true needs of those we are trying to help; our preliminary plans could very well be proven entirely wrong based on these next few weeks. This is the opportunity we have been waiting for! The chance to hear directly what the people have to say, to see their situation for ourselves and begin to understand the devastation they have gone through; these interactions cannot be substituted by anything else. The Conscious Connections Foundation is based on relationships; this trek is meant to foster and sustain such relationships as the most pressing needs shifts from those of relief to recovery. By sitting down with both those who have benefitted from CCF assistance and those who have not, we hope to have honest, comfortable, and open conversations. With any luck, this method will allow us to ask the village communities what they need to survive the approaching winter and how we can play a part in returning their world to some greater semblance of normality.
We bid you all adieu for the time being, but will post pictures and updates whenever possible!
Throughout my first nine days in Nepal, if there is one thing I have observed over and over and over again in the Nepali people, it is their never-ending capacity for resilience in the face of tragedy, loss, and seemingly insurmountable odds. These are people that know suffering. You see it in the piles of rubble flooding the streets, you see it in the gaping holes where homes once stood, you see it in the wounds of the sick and injured, but you do not see it in their smiles. Whether they are confronted with a devastating earthquake, civil and political strife, or a country-wide petrol shortage, the Nepali people continue to fight, survive, and rebuild stronger than before. As the 19th poorest country in the world, they have so much less than others in terms of infrastructure, security, and material goods, but they far surpass almost all others in terms of heart.
In reflecting on this testament to the unyielding human spirit, I think back to people at home who are continuing to fight and overcome great tragedies and challenges, truly embodying the powerful resilience of the Nepali people. Their perseverance is found in the family and friends of Jeremy McSpadden Jr, who keep on living each day despite his heartbreaking passing a year ago today. Their strength is found in Jace Malek, who is fighting every single day towards his unquestionable victory over cancer. Their courage is found in the students and communities of Northern Arizona University and Umpqua Community College, who are finding unity in light of the unimaginable events of late. Even halfway around the world, you are all in our minds and hearts. Cameron and I and the entire Conscious Connections Foundation team stand with you and thank you for inspiring us all to traverse the trials and tribulations of life and to emerge as more than we were.
Check out our very first vlog and some pictures from our adventures! Please leave a comment letting us know what you think! Thank you!
After a harrowing 38 hours of transit we touched down on the tarmac of Tribhuvan International Airport. As we stepped from our gleaming, air conditioned, Korean Air Boeing 777 into the rust encrusted shuttle bus awaiting us on the steaming, 80 degree runway, it was apparent that we, as Dorothy so eloquently put it, “were not in Kansas anymore”. This journey that we had planned and prepared for during many months of taxing research had finally begun, and it was as we walked through the old red brick terminal, sweaty and jet lagged, that the implication of this began to finally sink in.
There is no way to accurately describe what it is like to return to a place like Nepal, and I’m sure that such an experience is different for everyone. For me, however, it was the smell that brought every memory rushing back. Sweet and earthy in a distinct combination that I have never found back home; one whiff and it was as if I had never left.
Upon first glance, very little seemed to have changed since my last visit three years ago, but on closer inspection, here and there along the roadside, gaping holes could be seen, where it was apparent buildings, shops, and homes had once stood. Much of the rubble had been cleared away to make room for the hopeful foundations of new buildings which may or may not be cultivated at some point in the future. Piles of bricks lined the roadsides and the remnants of tents and other temporary shelters remained in the few open spaces as a testament to the unbelievable destruction and devastation that had so recently been inflicted on this country. Yet, the people were carrying on with their daily lives.
The view from our window
I’m not sure what I had expected to see, but such a physical manifestation of these people’s ability to persevere was both incredibly humbling, and altogether inspiring. Yet to say that they merely persevered would be a gross understatement. It has become clear with every new meeting, every discussion, and every joyful reunion, that, when faced with disaster and situations that would seemingly bring even the boldest of us to our knees, many individuals accepted this challenge and confronted it head on.
After having braved the streets and kamikaze drivers of Kathmandu, we finally arrived at the house of our landlord and dear friend, Chunta. We had just a few moments to get acquainted with our home to be before we were greeted by Ram Karki and his son Pradeep. Ram has been an integral part of my life since close to 16 years before I was born. A life long friend of my parents and one of the best trekking guides I know, Ram has run Bloomsday, helped build our house, knows every single trail and village of Nepal like the back of his hand, and is one of the wisest souls I have ever had the honor to meet. Pradeep is now 18 and an exuberant reflection of his father. A brilliant student with a deep passion for history and the cultivation of his country, Pradeep is one of the few individuals whom I can wholeheartedly call Dia (brother). At the conclusion of a joyful reunion, we said pheri betaaula (see you soon) to Ram, and followed Pradeep on our first excursion into the city. Suffice it to say that no matter how many times I wander the streets of Kathmandu, I am always amazed by the small details and subtle exchanges that I see, I learn something new every time. A walk through the streets of this city is a lesson in humanity that could never be replicated inside a classroom.
Our first Nepali lesson from Pradeep
To honor an age old tradition of my family, our first morning in Nepal was spent climbing the hundreds of steps to the sacred Stupa of Swayambhu. As per custom, we circled the main stupa clockwise while spinning the countless prayer wheels along the base, all the while chanting the silent mantra Oh Mani Padme Hum under our breath, and thanking the Gods for our safe travel to the other side of the world.
Until next time, thanks for reading, and keep making those conscious connections!
Hello everyone and welcome!
This is Grant Gallaher, and, together with Cameron Conner, I will be updating this blog from the field whenever possible throughout our three months of research and volunteer work for the Conscious Connections Foundation in Nepal. Our posts will contain updates on our research and learning, lots of pictures, and accounts of our own personal experiences and thoughts. We are absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity and to be able to share it with others all around the world. Thank you for joining us for this journey!
After a touching send-off from our families and close friends, we (the nerds) embarked on the first leg of this expedition on September 30th!
I normally like plane rides anyway, but our second flight was a little more special for me than usual because it was the longest flight I’ve ever been on (11 hours) and it was my first time flying over the ocean. The immensity and vastness of the Pacific is truly a powerful sight. All the traveling has gone rather smoothly so far (knock on wood), with the exception of when I was accidentally given the wrong boarding pass because my name is apparently Thomas Higgenbotham.
We are currently in Seoul, South Korea, where we have an overnight layover before departing early in the morning for Kathmandu. Time zones are seriously messing with my brain as I’m trying to keep track of the time in Spokane, Seoul, and Kathmandu all at once. Ay caramba…
Dinner was an adventure tonight in Korea! Among several other unfamiliar dishes, we tried octopus kebabs, quail eggs, and some form of lemon cream dessert that we couldn’t even figure out how to get it out of it’s container. These strange foods were just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to experiencing cultures and customs different from our own on this trip!
Well, many months of preparation have been leading up to this moment, and I am so excited to arrive in Nepal for my very first time tomorrow!!! We’ll be posting more updates and pictures from Kathmandu once we get there! Thank you again for reading and letting us share these amazing experiences with you!