Monday, April 2, 2012

Random Act of Kindness

I've been thinking lately about the impact of our random, daily interactions.  I know I try and interact well with those I care about or am trying to impress (I'm very friendly to my handsome vet). But how do we affect those we don't see: the guy at the checkout stand, or the woman who dropped her bag in front of you, or the dog with no owner running past you on the sidewalk.  The interactions with no intentions may have great impact.  Here's something I wrote a year and a half ago of a time when I realized my guilt. 

Random Act of Kindness 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Picture for Only Ghosts

Artist: Marianne Mauss Oberdoerster

I asked my artist friend, Marianne, to do the artwork for the production of my novel.  After reading Only Ghosts, Marianne had a vision that she explained to me over the phone.  It seemed complicated, but I had faith in her.  She, however, wasn't sure she could bring her vision to paper. She knew the emotion and pose she wanted, but her struggle was that she wanted the people to look like they came from the traditional Mithili Art.  I thought this idea was particularly appropriate because Mithili art comes from the villages in the Terrai flatlands near India, where the novel is set.  When Marianne and I visited Nepal in 1996, she was introduced to this art (perhaps sooner with some of the work I own).  However, replicating the feel and style of this art is a challenge.  She looked at photos and worked on this for quite a bit and then one day out this beauty came.  The image above is of Hara and Shakar at Bhoot pool, and the bird is a Kafl Pakyo bird, which Marianne also researched for this drawing.

Here's a Facebook page of Mithili art:  Mithila Art from Nepal

Here's a drawing from this site.

Marianne captured this art, didn't she?

Setting for Only Ghosts

Carrie-Ann Tkaczyk’s novel, Only Ghosts, is set during the 1990 democratic movement in Nepal’s flat lands. This land the Nepalese call the “Terrai.” Tkaczyk talks about why she set her novel in this part of Nepal rather than the more famous Himalayan mountains.
Terrai towns have two horizons. The eastern line is a distant fence, which extends to the ghostlike Sanskrit print of foothills and higher still to Everest’s icy gate masquerading as cumulus clouds against a blue sky. This distance fence may be less tangible than Kathmandu’s cinder-block gates roofed with broken glass, but is no less ominous. Though most Terrai-Wallas have never traveled far enough west to stand in the shadow of a Himalayan Mountain, they know they’re there. It is a part of the Nepali psyche.
When a Terrai-Walla faces west, the sky stretches boundlessly. While neighbor India lays underneath that rippling horizon line, a lion ready to slam shut the border and drive up the price of kerosene again, the trained eye of a Terrai-Walla travels beyond India. In the year King Birendra hands the keys to the kingdom to the people, the western vista expands on and on and further west to the exotic, to the mythic, to the democratic.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Both Sides of the Story

I have been features on Ragon Linde's CD, Both Sides of the Story.  I learned so much working on this CD with Ragon.  

You can purchase a copy off of CD Baby


One of my articles was recently featured in the ABC-CLIO SCHOOLS Database, as source material about the experience of being a Peace Corps Volunteer.   In ABC-CLIO, they write of these Peace Corps narratives as "a comprehensive overview of the range of jobs that Peace Corps volunteers are asked to tackle in host countries, as well as the importance placed on taking time to integrate into the local community."

To read my Article 

One of my stories is featured in the magazine ECS Nepal

Peace Corps Nepal at the half century

November 2011
Edited by Don Messerschmidt
2011 marks the 50th anniversary of what President Barack Obama recently called John F. Kennedy’s “noble vision”—the American Peace Corps worldwide. The Peace Corps was founded when Kennedy became the 35th U.S. President in 1961. The first PC volunteers arrived in Nepal in 1962, and for the next 42 years, until 2004, 3,629 volunteers (‘PCVs’) served here in many capacities—as teachers; agricultural extension workers; fisheries, forestry and livestock experts; community development workers; health workers; and other endeavors. They were posted to communities all across the country, sometimes remote, sometimes with other volunteers, sometimes alone (but never lonely).
In this article we look at the past impact of the Peace Corps by a noted Nepalese diplomat, and at a current development activity sponsored by ‘Friends of Nepal’, a group of former PCVs. This article is the first installment of several that we will publish into 2012 featuring short essays by former volunteers reflecting on their Peace Corps experiences with fondness, admiration and thanks to their Nepalese friends and hosts.
We conclude with a story from Carrie-Ann Tkaczyk about the myth of the ‘Baglung Pani Miss.’DM
Winning friends, really winning friends
Twenty years into the Nepal Peace Corps experience, in 1981, Nepal’s (then) Ambassador to the United States, Dr. Bekh Bahadur Thapa, spoke admiringly about the Peace Corps. “As a student (in the USA) when President Kennedy announced the Peace Corps program,” he wrote, “I was aware of the charisma and appeal it had. Soon thereafter, I went back to Nepal and was instrumental in signing the Peace Corps agreement.” When Dr. Thapa became Nepal’s chief coordinator for all foreign technical cooperation he took the opportunity to visit PCVs in the countryside, including the village in Tanahun District where he was born.
“The overall effect of the Peace Corps begins with a dialogue at the people’s level, independent of both our governments. ... with the Nepalese people,” he said. Then, remembering a PCV English teacher he met: “There were not enough Nepalese who knew English or who could teach English, so the Peace Corps volunteers filled an important gap. But on another level, in the community, Peace Corps volunteers were winning friends, really winning friends. They came from afar to live within the community as one of our people, not beyond the means of the local community, sharing the level of poverty of the Nepalese village people.”
“What the Peace Corps volunteers did was extraordinary. For the average Nepalese, Americans were cut down to human size. And the impact of those volunteers who taught English, for example, was not only on the children, “but on others at the local level who witnessed their lives and behavior.”
One volunteer he met was living in a hut with two Nepalese school teachers. “Inside the hut he had changed the living arrangement, the living environment. He had used essentially the same things that Nepalese use but had created more hygienic living conditions. The teachers picked up these habits and, in turn, taught them to the rest of the village.” Then he points out that if one of the big aid agencies was to attempt to replicate what that volunteer had done, “the first thing they would do is send a $40,000 consultant to look at village sanitation” and more money to bring a project to implementation stage.
“But the Peace Corps is different,” Thapa concluded. “Things like these may be very small, but how profound an impact they make. They cannot be measured in economic terms.”
Friends of Nepal
The last PCVs left Nepal in 2004. the last group was N-128. The usual explanation for closing was concern about the volunteers’ safety during the insurgency. Today, many ex-volunteers and concerned Nepalese want to see the Peace Corps return to Nepal. One of the organizations supporting this goal is ‘Friends of Nepal’. It was founded for staying in touch while continuing to help in the development of Nepal. FoN maintains an active website, newsletter and Nepal-oriented programs and activities. Its members support grass-roots projects that target vulnerable peoples and communities. FoN works in partnership with Nepalese NGOs on projects in health care, rural income generation, education, communications, and cultural preservation.
In the following essay, former volunteer Dave Carlson describes an activity that members of FoN are currently working on in the hinterland.
The Friends of the 2011-12  Nepal Wireless Project
Text By Dave Carlson (PC Nepal-3, 1964-65)
In 2002, at a time when there was little interest by the Nepal government and the private sector to bring information technology to the northwestern hill and mountain villages, a grass-root project was begun by Mahabir Pun when he was a teacher of the Himanchal Higher Secondary School in the small village of Nangi, in Myagdi District. The project’s initial goal was to bring the Internet and telephone system to the school and village. That was the birth of the Nepal Wireless Networking Project (NWNP). Since then, the NWNP has expanded well beyond Nangi by building small-scale infrastructures using wireless technology and the Internet in over 100 other village communities.
Today, the NWNP promotes educational opportunities, health care, job creation, local e-commerce, and general communication locally and abroad. The NWNP is now a movement that leapfrogs the traditional constraints of isolated rural life by creatively connecting villages to 21st century information and communication opportunities.
Among the most recent organizations to help fund the NWNP is ‘Friends of Nepal’ (FoN), whose members are former Peace Corps Volunteer to Nepal. This year, in celebration of the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary, FoN is supporting NWNP development in two rural Nepal communities: Keshavtar in Tanahun District, and Shikha in Myagdi District.
Keshavtar, Tanahun District
In the central hill village of Keshavtar, Tanahun District, the project is creating a computer lab in the local high school and an information center for the entire community. The lab will house ten computers and provide training on computer hardware and software applications for students, unemployed youth, teachers and women’s’ groups as a tool to promote career development. Villagers will be able to participate with online interactive educational programs such as the Open Learning Exchange and the Nepal Research and Education Network. A rich array of learning/training materials will be available of a caliber not possible in any other way to this community.
The Keshavtar Community Information Center is being supplied with four computers, a network camera, and a LCD projector. It will be run and maintained by local the village Mothers Group. There, villagers will be able to exchange news and opinions, place advertisements to market products for sale, and engage in community affairs. The center will provide national and international call services, Internet access, video conferencing, as well as photocopying, document processing and photography services.
To make the facilities operational, a wireless networking link is being built from nearby Pokhara (30 miles distant) to Keshavtar. The connection requires installation of dish antennas attached to tall trees, as well as relay stations, solar collectors and network servers. FoN is supplying the many pieces of hardware required for this connection and under supervision by the NWNP local villagers will complete the task.
Shikha, Myagdi District
The objective in Shikha village is to build a tele-medicine center at an existing health post that will link with two hospitals in Pokhara and Kathmandu via a network camera. FoN will supply the network camera, two computers with storage batteries, and other accessories.
The Shikha project will provide medical assistance to villagers and health training to rural health workers through its video- conferencing capabilities. In addition, the wired-up clinic is available to address the health needs of villagers in several neighboring communities.
In order to treat patients, health workers in the Shikha clinic will use the network camera to connect directly to doctors at the city hospital in Pokhara. Doctors there will be able to view and talk to patients about their health problems and the trained health workers at the Shikha clinic will assist the patients and follow up on the doctors’ recommendations.
An innovative but inexpensive project
What is remarkable about the Keshavtar and Shikha projects is that the entire effort costs less than US$18,000. By early 2011, FoN members and supporters had already raised $7,000 and the community of Keshavtar raised $4,000 on its own. The remaining $7,000 is FoN’s ongoing responsibility. The two projects are expected to be completed by December 31, 2011.
FoN looks forward to having a long relationship of support for the NWNP as it continues to expand the network to the hundreds of mountain villages eager to join this movement. In time, when the Peace Corps returns to Nepal, it will be welcomed into this partnership.
The ‘Baglung Pani Miss’
Text By Carrie-Ann Tkaczyk (N-170, 1990-93)
Carrie-Ann Tkaczyk’s has this advice for future Peace Corps Volunteers: “Avoid moving to a village where a volunteer preceded you.” And, we might add, watch out for myths to come.
When I moved to Baglung Pani, Andy Walker was my own personal Freddy Krueger, popping into every conversation, and shredding my every deed. At each “good morning,” people would point to the hostel next to the school and tell me, “Andy Walker built that. What are you going to build?” At noon, the woman who gave me tea would drill me with questions in rapid Nepalese and then announce, “You don’t speak as well as Andy Walker. He spoke Gurung too. When are you going to learn Gurung?” At dinner, I listened to my host family tell stories of Andy Walker’s humor and wit. I gritted my teeth through the nightmare of comparisons until the remarks grew less frequent and trickled to the occasional. I made friends with those who never knew Andy Walker and soon with those who did.
About a year into my stay, I was taking a bus back home from a training in Kathmandu when an older Nepali man offered his seat and asked me where I was going.
“Baglung Pani,” I answered. The man’s eyes lit up with a look I now recognized as the Andy Walker look and I sighed. “Yes, I know” I said flatly. “You met the volunteer there.”
“She is wonderful! Do you know the Baglung Pani Miss?” he asked, and before I could answer the man was off telling me about her perfect Nepalese, her sweet Gurung, her friendly nature, her wonderful singing voice, her skill with the children.
I sat up in my seat and beamed in anticipation of his delirious bubbling at discovering me. This was my moment vindication! When the man slowed enough for me to get in a word, I exclaimed, “I’m the Baglung Pani Miss!”
The man’s smile faded. “Oh, no, you can’t be the Baglung Pani Miss,” he argued. “Your Nepali isn’t good! You can’t even speak Gurung.”
“No,” I said, at once indignant. “I am the Baglung Pani Miss!”
“That is not possible,” the man replied, equally adamant. “She is just like a Nepali, but look at you. You are not!”
I took a deep breath, ready for battle when Andy Walker came to mind. I sank back down and nodded. “You’re right.” The man huffed in agreement and turned away. I stared out the window so that the man could not see how giddy I looked.
Who was I to trifle with the myth of the Baglung Pani Miss?

ECS NEPAL | The Nepali Way

ECS NEPAL | The Nepali Way

Educational Environment Boarding School

Educational Environment Boarding School

Kiran was one of my Nepalese language trainers when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal (1990-1992).  In fact, for one part our training, she and I shared living quarters.  Kiran was my age, fresh out of university, and as excited about this new experience as I had been.   At that time all the Nepali language trainers seemed exotic and so very different than me, yet I experienced my first connection transcendent of culture with Kiran: both of us missed our families and we would talk about this and about being homesick.  These conversations were my first baby steps toward developing one of my strongest tenets--that people of all cultures have more in common than not.

Since that first meeting, Kiran and I have both found our life calling.  I spent ten years living overseas and now spend my days teaching students of other cultures, writing novels, and singing.  Kiran’s story—I’ve always thought—is much more interesting than mine, and I’ve come to appreciate her strength.  She scrapped together a dream through shear determination and guts.  Over the years I’ve been following Kiran, waiting for a time when I could help. 

When I began writing Only Ghosts, I knew that I wanted to use this book to help support her school.  In fact, there is an intellectual, forward-thinking character in my novel who is named Kiran.  I chose the name as a placeholder in the beginning, but the name fit so well, and then as I began to reconnect with my own “Kiran,” I realized that this name was a lovely tribute to her.

Kiran has embraced our collaboration; so much so that she offered to have her students make our production’s Lakhe masks.  The masks our percussionists wear are modeled after a traditional Newari  festival masks. 
I am so interested in Kiran’s story, that I thought it would be helpful for her to share it with you.  Below is Kiran’s story.

--Carrie-Ann Tkaczyk


Since my childhood, I have been very hard working in my studies. My father always regretted that I was born a daughter. He always wanted to have sons. So I tried my best to be a son for him and tried my best to prove myself so he may not feel sorry that his first child was a daughter.

Yet my parents were unable to provide me better opportunities. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if only they could have spent some money on me but, well, they gave up after I finished my high schooling. I had to work while going to college. I always used to run from my college to my job. I made my own way to get the opportunities I’ve had. My mother was against my interest in studying. She wanted me to be involved in household work. Sometimes she would even abuse me for not finishing household work on time. It was a funny situation, trying to be like a son for my father, doing all the household work to make my mother happy, while also working to continue my college.  After I completed my masters, I had amazing confidence and energy to better myself. It was a wonderful opportunity to get a job as a language trainer in the Peace Corps, which is where I met Carrie-Ann.  I was one of her Nepali language trainers. My father was against my decision to join the Peace Corps, so, because of this, I always feel sorry for those who work hard but do not find any support from their parents.

After the Peace Corps, I established the Educational Environment Boarding School and it became my greatest dream and desire. There were only eight students in the beginning of my school and I remember all the harassment from my family, relatives and community. One of my aunts told me that it was not under my capacity because running a school was the work of a man. A friend, Sapana, visited my school and commented that it was quite crazy to think to run a school with just eight students. There are nearly seventy-five students now.

My father was D.E.O before his retirement. He has been so unsatisfied with my choices that he has never given me any support in his whole life, not even moral support. He has always said that my education level and career do not run in a parallel way. Being a principal of a small school is somehow disappointing for him. I feel lucky that at least I have a sister who stands by my side and understands me so well. And I feel lucky to have so many friends who have become part of my dream. 

Most of my students’ parents are illiterate and they feel I am doing this all for fun and cannot see my deep devotion to create better Nepali citizens for the future. Education is a long term devotion and who has such patience? But I am glad some examples are showing up slowly.  Some of my students’ living standards have changed because they are going to college. Without an education, they would be washing dishes or doing the laundry for rich people. It’s not that easy to give a better life to people, but it’s not that impossible either.

I have a funny story on this matter. During the winter season, my students come to school with less warm clothing and keep on shivering in the classroom. There is a proverb that cold eats at children like goats. I requested some friends to send some warm clothes for my students. When I gave them free my students’ parents thought I was insulting them because they were poor, so I told them that I would sell the clothes for a few rupees. All were eager to buy the items, even those who could afford warm clothes from shopping centers. Ever since I tell my students to fix the rates themselves and all money goes to their children’s clubs called SOE Or FAG.(Save our environment and First aid group).There are many more stories like this in EEBS.

All of the students who completed seven grade from EEBS have passed their school board exam. None of them have used drugs nor smoked. None of them have ever been pointed for misbehavior. When they graduate from EEBS, they make me proud by participating other extra curricular activities in their new schools. The first batch of EEBS are now in twelfth grade.

EEBS has been running for fifteen years. EEBS wants to produce such students who will be useful for their family and their community and their country.  We focus on civic duty and environmental concerns.  As anyone who has ever visited Nepal knows, this type of education is essential for our country.

I fund the school by students’ parents education fee and by sponsorship by foreigners. Five of my parents do not pay anything because they are under privileged.  However, at this time about sixty-percent of our student population is from a lo
w socio-economic life.  Donation help cover student tuition, teachers’ salary, facility costs, and extra curricular activities. 

Carrie-Ann wants me to talk about the fact that I am a female principal.  This is not usual in Nepal.  In the entire country there are not many.  There is a cultural perception that women cannot take on leadership roles. When I think of fifty schools, I can think of only one female principal.  The fact that I established EEBS, is even more rare.  In Nepal, perhaps fewer than hundred schools have been established by individuals.  

EEBS is in the heart of Kathmandu, located in the lap of the Bijeswori Temple, a nearly 200 meters walk east of the famous Buddhist temple,

Your donations allow me to support the poorest children in my community.  This is important to our school’s mission.  Friends support the school.  Today most of my sponsors are returned Peace Corps volunteers and some German friends because they believe I am producing the better citizens for the country. EEBS would like to be able to support more students.


Kiran Karjik

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Inspirations for Only Ghosts

Only Ghosts, as a percussive storytelling was initiated New Year's 2011. An intimate group of creative friends came over to my house to celebrate New Year's Eve.  We started talking about our creative aspirations and YouTubing music that inspired us.  Ragon showed us a clip of the Dresden Dolls.  I was wowed by the cabaret feel of the video and the drama of the percussion work.  What Ragon wanted, he told us that night, was to create a dramatic percussive performance to my novel, Only Ghosts.  I had read sections of the novel at cafes and wine bars with Ragon playing guitar behind me a couple times, but what he suggested was a much larger undertaking.  The next morning, I started pulling the strings of the novel and thinking about Ragon's vision.  A couple weeks later Ragon and I met to discuss the project and I agreed to have a script ready by fall 2011.  There you have it: from Dresden Dolls to Only Ghosts.

Only Ghosts Performance

RagonOur Performers and FamiliesCarrie-Ann TkaczykA. MolotkovRagon LindePrasanna Dhoj Pradhan
Bruce BartlettPrasanna and his sonBruceRagonprasannaBruce
RagonPrasannaBruceOur Mascot--Bruce's Dogdashain danceDashain
DashainDashain CelebrationDashainDashain CelebrationDashain

Only Ghosts Performance, a set on Flickr.