Saturday, November 5, 2016

By car, elephant, and rickshaw

To be honest, I would have nixed the Lumbini part of the trip. We are facing down our last year in Nepal, and finally willing to overcome our “but Safaris in Africa are so much better” snobbery to go down to the big national park here and attempt to see some animals.
And of course, we can’t just hop on the 15 minute plane ride, see the park, and come home. We have to drive the 6-hour road, because the Subaru would have been sad if it didn't get to go. Despite the fact that the road was so bumpy it actually unscrewed the bolts in the rooftop rack.

Chitwan National Park was great. We stayed at Sapana Village Lodge and really enjoyed it. We have been told by other USAID-ers that they treat their elephants well. After being there, I am not sure this is true. However, we were already there and went on elephant-back safari. The only choice, actually, as the roads such as they are were far too muddy for vehicular transport.

Aside from the sore muscles obtained from making sure hot and wiggly toddler daughter didn’t wiggle right off my lap and fall to her death in a river or mud swamp, we had a nice time. And we didn’t see any of the big stuff (tigers or rhino), but we saw little stuff (monkeys, deer, wild chickens, peacocks), and it was fun.

Then we drove to Lumbini, the famed birthplace of Buddha (haven’t you heard of it?). One of Nepal’s treasures. However, our GPS map isn’t actually that great and didn’t actually have the spot searchable on the map. Sooo, we just kind of went and hoped for the best. Despite being worried (more than once) that we had crossed into India, we did make it, due to my spouse’s uncanny processing and memory of maps.
Toddlers in stupas
We found our hotel (pricey, not nearly as cool as Sapana), grabbed some dahl baht at a local restaurant (hot and sweaty, but friendly and yum yum), and made our way to the historic site. The site is a huge complex, several square miles, that contains a museum, visitor’s center, a Peace Pagoda, representative Buddhist temples/monasteries from many different countries (a la Disney World), an eternal flame of peace, several historic sites, and of course the site of Buddha’s birth. So despite not being extremely into Buddhism ourselves, it sounded interesting and fun.

We arrived, paid our tickets, got a map, and starting planning our visit. Shall we start at the visitor's center? Oh, that's the shell of a building out yonder still going up. How about that museum? Another pile of bricks beckons! So forget the informational stuff, let's just go see the global array of peace pagodas.

So we pile onto 2 bicycle rickshaws, because these lovely buildings are really quite spread out, and it's hot, and neither the 1-yr-old nor the 9-yr-old are acting too excited about this. We hop over to the international temples (and by "hop," I mean the two older men commanding our rickshaws tug and pull us over bumps and walkways for about 5 minutes). The setting was really quite nice, the temples surrounding a man-made lake or canal. We stopped at the Tibetan temple first. The thing about temples and monasteries is, you can't wear shoes. And the thing about concrete is, it's super hot at 2PM on a 90+ degree summer day. Luckily, the Tibetans provided us with a water pump right inside the courtyard, where we and others cooled their toes, heads, etc. The other thing about temples and monasteries is, we've seen a bunch. Especially Tibetan ones. It was nice and cool inside, but we soon ran our way over the burning-coal pavement and made our way to the next one, which looked a lot like the first one. So we decided to rickshaw-it over to the next cluster of monasteries, where we'd find the Australian and Korean monasteries. Those might be different, eh? Yes! They weren't even complete! In fact more than half of the monasteries were under construction.

So... we drag our super-excited kids on to Buddha's birthplace! We again divested ourselves of shoes (but enjoyed grass in the courtyard!); we went through a security check
Worshippers at Buddha's birthplace
and found a pleasant and green area filled with tourists and worshippers. Lucky us, we made this trip during Dashain, a very important Buddhist holiday. The kids enjoyed watching the fish in the sacred pond while the husband and I enjoyed dragging the kids away from the pond to see the very spot that Buddha was thought to have been born (foundations/ruins abound, I love that stuff), and we all listened to the prayers and music being offered up while steeling ourselves against the heebie-jeebies due to the assault of non-Christianity on our very Christian selves (that's another story, but this stuff is real, folks).

After a long hot day, a nice tip to our rickshaw drivers, and a night in the hotel with the air-con blasting, we loaded up in the car for the trip home. We would have stayed longer... but there really wasn't more to see.  We drove out of the historic area, through fields empty of workers and misty in the morning sun, observing folks decked out in their finest as they went on their way to Dashain celebrations by foot, bicycle, and truckload. We were just marveling at what a great time to drive this was, as we worked our way through the town with zero traffic and uncharacteristically calm streets, when the 1-yr-old blew her cookies (and morning porridge and mostly milk) All. Over. The. Car. Backseat, carseat, windows, dripping in regurgitated baby milk.

A moment of shocked silence ensued. Then a baby wail. Then Husband swerved the car to the side of the road (yay for no traffic!) and mama jumped into action, pulling baby out of the carseat, trying to control regurg-milk drip in the car, and immediately noticing the street-side water pump.

This may be one of the few times anyone has ever given thanks for the lack of central water.
The infamous water pump

Since it was a holiday, no one was at the pump. We did draw a few onlookers from the nearby shops and homes (hehe, hey there, how'ya doin'), but I stripped that baby down and cleaned her and her clothing in freezing cold street pump water. (That kid is a really good sport). Husband pulled out the carseat and did the same. As for the car itself, lets suffice it to say some previously worn clothing items were sacrificed, and we had to keep the windows down as much as possible on the way home.

Chitwan was neat to see. Lumbini was one of those not-really-successful trips that I would have said was too much trouble with the family, but thanks to my husband's unquenchable wanderlust will be fondly remembered with laughs, groans, and "remember whens" for a long time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Home is where the tortillas are

As a participant in the Taking Route "Global Life" series, I mentioned our wonderful homemade tortillas (first appearing in this blog about 4 years ago). Due to requests from other sad Mexican-food lovers with a tortilla-shaped hole in their hearts, I am posting the recipe here. Buen provecho!

2+ cups flour
1 Tbsp shortening*
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 cup water

* I use shortening (Crisco) as it is available here. You could instead use lard, or experiment with other fats.

1. Preheat griddle or metal pan at medium heat. A nice hot (preheated) pan makes a nicer tortilla.

2. Cut shortening into the flour. Add salt and baking powder and mix. Add water and mix well. I use a hand mixer with dough hooks (sounds fancy but it's not!). Once mixture comes together, mix with electric mixer for 3 more minutes, or by hand for ~6 min. Dough is sticky - if mixing by hand you may need to add flour (which is actually nice for the dough being less sticky, but makes it harder to roll thin later).

3. Let dough rest on a well-floured surface for a few minutes (there is always something else in the kitchen that needs doing, right?).

4. Break dough into Ping-Pong(ish) sized balls and set aside on the well-floured surface.

5. To shape the tortilla, flatten a dough ball and then roll it with a rolling pin or glass bottle. It is really essential to be generous with the flour dusting here!

6. Place tortilla on hot pan. Small and large bubbles will form within a minute or so. Flip tortilla to just brown the other side.

7. Remove tortilla from heat and place in a stack in a clean towel. If tortillas aren't eaten within a few hours, they store well in a bag (preferably in the fridge, if you have space and power and all that).

Monday, October 24, 2016

This happened today

There are many amazing things that happen in the international schools. Here is one.

Yep, that's my animal-crazy, environmentally-minded kid. And that is Jane Goodall.

I keep telling the kiddo that she's doing so much in her life that many people dream of doing (whether she wants to or not), but today she believed me.

Monday, November 9, 2015

On Doing Something

One of the occastional (or more often, if you allow) irritants of being a "trailing spouse" is the oft-heard question, "What do you do?"

Fellow trailing spouses tend to be fairly sensitive on this issue, as compared with the average person who is employed and/or single and/or not posted abroad in any capacity. Sometimes you can even judge their own level of frustration if they offer a different phrasing, "What did you do?" Because, clearly, whatever your market worth was before you started this whole expat thing, it is different now.

And, quite honestly, at least I have the kids/family thing I can fall back on.

One of the adorable little guys available at Beguiled
Child. Hand knit by a women's coop in Bangladesh.
Regardless, especially for those of us who face a consistent stream of changing countries, the inevitable process of having to define (or defend) yourself does take a toll. There is the "eh" phase, where you are busy with whatever personal issues, goals, or travel you may have, and the question doesn't bother you. There is the "formerly" phase, where you talk about things that have kept you busy, even if they aren't currently operational. There is the, um, "go away" phase, where you have been looking and looking for some kind of gainful employment and you do not get hired; one's answer during this phase tends to be said tritely with an entirely fake smile. Then there is the blessed "answer" phase, if you are so lucky, where you get to say that either you have a job doing xyz or you are waiting on your clearance for abc job at the embassy.

Personally, it's been a little on-and-off for me with the consulting and whatnot. This fall, as I was sorting through all the edifying, beautifully made, creatively inspiring toys I would love to put in my shopping cart for the kids for Christmas, I eventually came to the conclusion that I should start my own online shop. Turns out, this is entirely doable via an online shopping website platform partnered with a US-based fulfillment warehouse.

So, look for it - coming soon! Beguiled Child, Enchanting Toys. A place to find toys both constructive and cozy, no batteries, screens, or cords allowed.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Monkey business

Bringing baby home to Kathmandu is quite different than bringing (our first) baby home to suburban Virginia.

Once the little one is tucked up in bed, the exchange goes like this:

Me (exhausted): Is that the baby or is that a monkey?

Him (distracted): Just monkey.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Massive Change of Pace

Don’t get me wrong. I love being in the States – life is so convenient there.

But it’s nice to be back in Nepal, despite the pretty low post-earthquake morale here. After an extremely hectic home-leave, which was difficult in ways we are not ready to talk about in the packing and preparation of our house for the next tenants, we are back with our stuff, in the alternative life we live where I don’t have to do laundry or clean toilets, have minimal gainful occupation, and can stay home playing with the girls and the dog and watch the monsoon rain pool outside (and inside, but that’s another story).  

Now, if only I had some Trader Joe's in the freezer I could get started on making dinner...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

On Shaky Ground

So, if you are going to get devastating news – for example, that a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the rickety city where your husband is – a good way to get it is to be awakened by a phonecall where the first thing you hear is your husband saying, “I’m OK.”
He is definitely shaken. Major aftershocks continue, people are panicked and living outside, the airport is swamped, and the infrastructure that couldn’t keep up on a good day is damaged, destroyed, or completely overwhelmed.
But he’s OK.

By car, elephant, and rickshaw

To be honest, I would have nixed the Lumbini part of the trip. We are facing down our last year in Nepal, and finally willing to overcome ...