Learning to Write

It’s the little things here that get me.

Rooftop drying, which is a luxury, and the fact that my clothes can now dry in one day and they won’t get moldy and stiff while drying over the course of three days like on my old lines. And less dusty. The less time they’re up there, the less dusty they are when they come off.

And sitting in a café and getting a really good bowl of vegetable soup for lunch. Then staying for a few hours while studying Nepali and watching the sun set over the city.

The sky gets dark, and the lights come on, and it’s beautiful. Because it is almost Tihar, the festival of lights, all of the buildings are strung with twinkly lights and there are lanterns hanging over the street in Thamel. It feels like Christmas time, it looks like Christmas time, but it is still seventy degrees out.

It is starting to cool down a bit here, which means that I can pull out my knit socks I bought at one of the stores here, and wrap up in a Yak shawl with some tea! Of course, cool down means 65-70 degrees still, but the house isn’t that insulated, so it tends to feel colder.

So I am starting to learn to read and write in Nepali script! Well, the actual name for the script is devanagari, and it’s the same writing system that languages like Hindi and Sanskrit use. It’s quite difficult, because there are 36 letters, not including vowels, many of which we don’t have in English.

Practice at writing out the alphabet
Practice at writing out the alphabet

There is a difference between Ta, Tha, Ta, and Tha, which I am still struggling to pronounce, and letters like Ksha and Ng, which we don’t have.

The way words are written is a little similar to Hebrew: first the consonants, and then the vowels are added. Unless another vowel is added after the consonant then the understanding is that it retains the “ah” at the end of the letter. After that the vowels are added, either next to the letter, in the form of a line with a curve on the top (in the case of “ee” and “oh”), or under or above the letter (like in the case of “eh” and “oo”).

Isu wrote out the alphabet for me (and spent a painstakingly long time trying to get me to pronounce Ta, Tha, Ta and Tha correctly), and now I’m practicing writing words and sentences in Nepali and copying them in Nepali script. Then Isu comes in and corrects them.

My homework last night (from Isu) was a simple daily schedule.
My homework last night (from Isu) was a simple daily schedule.

I’m starting to slowly get faster at reading, but reading the caligraphy on signs is hard! They squish the letters in weird ways which makes it hard to recognize, as a beginner.

There are a lot of little things I still don’t think of. A short “n”, (think of the “n” in “change”) literally has the letter cut in half in the word. Other short letters (like a short “r” or “m”) might appear as a dash in the middle of the previous letter, or as a swoop above another letter, above the line (like the one at the top of the “om” symbol).

I am currently helping to put together progress reports and a corresponding presentation on the progress of one of the projects, called the PAST (Prevention Against Sexual exploitation and Trafficking) project. It is interesting doing this, because it gives me insight into not only the projects and activities that the NGO works on, but also how they see them relating.

All of the activities have a point of working towards the main goal (the mission of the NGO is “women and girls free of forced prostitution”), so whether that be a meeting between the owners of the dance bars and massage parlors and the women who work there, or lessons on labor laws, or even putting together a taekwondo team, all of the little parts they see as adding up towards the greater whole.

Other than that is has been pretty quiet, what with the festival season, and everyone coming back from vacation. The NGO will be closed again at the beginning of next week for Tihar, and after that the entire city will be back and bustling again.

Until then I am enjoying the  (relative) quiet of a city that seems to have not quite filled up again, and the lights that are being strung around every house, store, and restaurant. The holidays are beautiful, even thousands of miles away from home.

Avocado with salt and chili powder for a snack!

Thai-type Stir Fry

We had a full fridge of vegetables, but realized that they were all about to go bad! So I grabbed some coconut milk at the store (less expensive than I thought it would be!), and set about to figuring out how to make a nice stir fry. I browsed a few Thai recipes before grabbing out the ingredients we had and working with them to make a sauce.  I wanted to add cauliflower, but this time the vegetables that were about to go bad got priority so the cauliflower, unfortunately, didn’t make the cut. It is great cooking for both myself and a roommate–it gives me an excuse to cook a huge pot of food, and then we eat the leftovers the next day! All in all it turned out really well! A bit spicy (but not too spicy), and also sweet and a bit savory all at the same time.

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 11.43.19 AM


2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger, 2 tbsp chopped fresh garlic, 4 small chilies, 3 small onions, 2-3 handfuls of bell mushrooms, 3 medium bell peppers, 2 handfuls snap peas, 6-8 small tomatoes, 1 block of tofu, 3 limes, bunch of cilantro, 1 400mL can of coconut milk, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, salt, chili powder

Stir Fry:

Cut tofu into small pieces and put in bowl with teriyaki sauce to soak.

Chop the vegetables.

After the tofu has soaked for 10-20 minutes, combine coconut milk, leftover teriyaki sauce, soy sauce to taste, one spoonful chili powder and lime juice from two small limes.  Add more of any of the ingredient to taste. It should be a little sweet, a little savory, and a little spicy.

In a large pan or wok heat 1 tbsp oil. Add the ginger, garlic, and chopped chilis and let fry for 30 seconds. Add onion. After a minute add mushrooms.  Let fry for 2-3 minutes then add about a quarter of the sauce,  or enough for them to simmer in. Cover with lid and let simmer 4-5 minutes.

Add peppers and snap peas. Add another third or so of the sauce, cover, let simmer 4-5 minutes.

While simmering, place tofu in a frying pan with another tbsp of oil and let fry. After the stir fry has been simmering for a few minutes, add the tomatoes and fried tofu, stir, re-cover, and let simmer for another 5-7 minutes.

Take off heat, garnish with cilantro and another squeeze of lime and serve, over rice or on its own.

Tomato Paneer Curry

I wanted to figure out how to make a simple curry at home in my flat, one that would make a good dinner for one or two using the spices and ingredients that are around me! I found a few tomato curry and paneer curry recipes online, and, after reading all the ones that looked decent, combined their ideas to make a quick, simple dish. I made it all in a small pot on the stove, using a normal table spoon to measure spices and a water cup to measure the rice and water. Not the most precise, but it made use of the things I have in my kitchen at the moment, and went more off of my gut than off of precise amounts. It turned out so well I made it again two nights later!

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 4.37.22 PM


2 small onions, 4 medium tomatoes, 1 cup cubed paneer, 3 cloves garlic, small handful fresh cilantro, salt, cumin, tumeric, chili powder, ½ cup milk, 2 cups water, 1 small lime, 1 cup rice, oil

For rice:

Rinse rice a few times, the place in rice cooker with 1 cup of water, some salt and oil. Let cook. Make sure to plan this around the power outages so you don’t end up with a pot full of semi-cooked rice in water and a dark kitchen.


Heat oil in a low pot. Add garlic and toss.

Add chopped onions, and fry until translucent.

Add a half a spoonful of cumin, the tip of the spoon full of turmeric, and an amount in between of chili powder (more or less for spiciness), and salt, and mix well.

Add chopped tomatoes, stir, and let simmer for 4-5 minutes.

Add cubed paneer.

Pour in milk and 1 cup of the water and stir well.

Let simmer for 5+ minutes, until the curry has thickened a bit. Add the cilantro and stir well, let simmer for a few more minutes.

Add lime juice, mix in, and take off the heat. Divide and serve over rice.

1000 meters here, 1000 meters there…

The past week was a holiday (Dasain) all over Nepal, so NGOs, schools, offices, government (what government there is), were all closed, and people left the valley for their villages. To give a sense of how many people are on the buses out, around seven million people live in the Kathmandu valley, and nearly three to four million of those leave for the holiday to go home to their villages.

They leave on motorbikes and scooters, piled two or three deep per vehicle. They leave on minibuses with kids on laps crushed to the windows. And they leave on big buses making their way out from the center of the city along the windy mountain roads that are sometimes paved, sometimes not. The lucky ones who get tickets sit on the seats inside the buses painted every color of the rainbow,  covered in pictures and designs with slogans on the front like “DRIVE SLOW LIVE LONG”, “SPEED LIMIT”, or “ROAD KING”. And the ones without tickets? They ride on the top. There are at least thirty guys sitting on the top of each bus, most inside the luggage rack, their legs hanging off of the edge of the roof, others kneeling on the edge, holding on to the railing that lines the roof of the bus. I pray these guys don’t fall off.

As for us? We were big spenders and sprung for a jeep, since our travel dates coincided exactly with when everyone was flooding out or back into the city. The jeep ride took around seven hours to go approximately 100 kilometers as the crow flies, averaging fifteen miles per hour on the precarious mountain roads.

The path we would take is directly through the mountains, as seen from Syrabu Besi, the first town we stayed in.
The path we would take is directly through the mountains, as seen from Syrabu Besi .
The Lang Tang river, running up into the mountains towards our destination.
The Lang Tang river, running up into the mountains towards our destination.

The first few days were pretty rainy. Because of the cyclone in India, even though the monsoon season has passed, Nepal got hit with rain for a few days, which meant that we were hiking in the pouring rain for the first few days of the trek. According to our guide, Ganesh, this was the worst weather that he has had to guide in! The streams that we needed to cross turned to rivers, the trails turned into mud pits and waterfalls. Everything was soaked. We were cold and wet and, after hiking for seven hours, got to the village we were staying in. We got some soup, sat by the stove in the common room of the guest house, and slept, very wet, and very cold.

It was rainy the second morning, at 2,500 m (8,200 ft).
It was rainy the second morning, at 2,500 m (8,200 ft).

The next day it took a while, but we finally rallied and hiked the last three hours up to the top village, Kyanjin Gompa. Here, the clouds finally started to let up and we could (finally) see the mountains and the snow peaks that we had been waiting for! The morning when we woke up and saw the peaks out of our window was probably my favorite of the trip: we had finally made it to the top village at 3,800 m (12,500 ft)! The sky was clear, wispy clouds creeping in from below the valley, but for the time being the air was clear, the sky was opened up, and the peaks around us towered up to 7,000 m into the sky.

Kyanjin Gompa in the morning
Kyanjin Gompa in the morning

That day we went on a day hike up towards the Ganja La pass. We weren’t planning on hiking over the pass mainly because of money: to do it we would need to hire a more expensive climbing guide, as well as porters with tents and food, because for three days around the pass there wouldn’t be any tea houses to stay at. So, instead, we decided to hike up as high as we could. For this hike we weren’t following an actual trail, but, as our guide explained, just the trail that the yaks use to get over the mountain. We climbed as high as we possibly could, getting up into the snow at the top of the mountains, close to 4,800 m (15,750 ft). At that point it started raining/sleeting, so we turned around (but not before having a brief snowball fight), and headed back towards the town, our rooms, and a big pot of Sherpa stew that they had waiting for us as a belated lunch.

The view from the bottom of the valley.
The view from the bottom of the valley.
Snow at the top of the mountains!
Snow at the top of the mountains!

The next day we hiked up to the peak, Kyanjin Ri, which stands at 4,779 m (15,679 ft) above the town of Kyanjin Gompa. The peak is covered in prayer flags raised up above the rocks, and around us we could see everything: peaks, valleys, and the town way below us, nestled on a little plateau between the ranges of mountains. Below the town the Lang Tang river flows back towards where we started from, back south towards Kathmandu. We had a picnic there of this amazing brown bread that is made in the town (more on that later), and yak cheese made one town over, in Lang Tang Village!

The group at the top of Kyanjin Ri. Lauren, Peter, Maneeshika, Me, and Ganesh.
The whole group at the top of Kyanjin Ri. Lauren, Peter, Maneeshika, Me, and Ganesh.
Prayer flags and the view from the top.
Prayer flags and the view from the top.

After that we headed down to Kyanjin Gompa, and then another three hours down to spend the night. The next day we (stupidly) decided to go really far, and ended up hiking ten hours straight and making it back to the original town, Syrambu Besi in one day! We hurt (a LOT) after that, but it meant that the following morning we could hire a jeep heading back to Kathmandu, and get back home two days early!

The mountain cow, or dzo: a cross between a yak and a cow!
The mountain cow, or dzo: a cross between a yak and a cow!

Updates, Dasain

No updates in a while, as things are a bit slow around here. I am still working on getting used to the pace of work here, as it is pretty different from what I am used to. I am so used to, at school, juggling class, work, homework, clubs, and friends, that it is weird to work at a slower pace, to match the way that things are done at the office!

In the past two weeks I finished up fixing their profile to give to donors (in both Word and PDF forms. This involved a lot of learning random functions and things I can do in Word to make an aesthetically appealing document. Good use of my art/design skills, and obsessive-compulsive need to make it look aesthetically perfect!). I also finished up two versions of a concept note for them (a longer one and a shorter one), a project proposal for a contest, and gathered and compiled all the materials they need to send to a US company that is vetting them before giving them a grant. Also, I learned to make a budget for the aforementioned project proposal. And yet, it is slow! That is also in part because they didn’t want me to start any new projects before the holiday, Dasain, which we are now in the middle of.

This week the city has been slowly emptying out. Last Saturday was the first day of Dasain, the major festival here that lasts for two weeks, and is the reason why I am going trekking. It is sort of like Christmas, and everyone goes home to their villages and to their families. Because of this, the NGO is closed for the next week (starting tomorrow), and, apparently, out of the seven million people living in the city, nearly four million of those leave! So the place basically empties out. It makes it a good time to take a vacation and get out of the city, hence going trekking!

I spent the last week or so finding the remaining things I need for my trek that I leave for on Saturday. This involved going from knockoff store to knockoff store to find the best fake-brand name hiking pants I could! Also found a fake Nalgene (for $3!). Of course Kathmandu has a North Face store, a Marmot store, and one or two other real outdoors stores, but everything is 10x cheaper at the knockoff stores, so that’s where I went instead.

I think my favorite conversation I overheard this week was between an Irish-sounding guy and an American—the Irish guy just got another backer so is going to Everest! I love how casual of a conversation that is here. Just casually dropping that he’s heading off to Mount Everest soon, over a couple of beers and momos.

I’m moving soon, too! Moving in with the other American working at my NGO, Lauren. I’ll finally have internet AND backup lights when the power goes out…I feel like I am moving to the civilized world! I’m also excited to live with a roommate again—it’s been getting a bit lonely living in a flat alone.

Anyways, more updates and photos when I return from the trek! (For those who are interested I’ll be up in Lang Tang, which is north, pretty close to Tibet.)


The view near my house, when the clouds clear out after a rain.