Archive for April, 2016

Nepal House Project – Spring 2016

Jon Ross on Apr 24th 2016


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First, I want to express sympathy for the earthquake victims in Japan and Ecuador. We will put Ecuador on our list for our help down the road. Toward that goal, MicroAid assistant program manager, Chelsey Marsing, has set up an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for us. Please check it out through the link above, donate if you can, and share it on Facebook and your other social media platforms. Thank you.


Here in Nepal, building a new home for our beneficiary family, on the outskirts of Kathamandu, near Bhaktapur, is going slowly but surely… after a few hiccups.

katunje site jon and purna ram

jon and local contractor

No sooner had we broken ground on the MicroAid project, after a single day digging the foundation, we had to stop. It seems a new zoning rule, post-earthquake, required more of a set-back from the street. So, because of the vagaries of the shape of our site, the engineer had to re-do the plan and re-submit for the permit.


katunje site setting pillars with concrete women

women laborers delivering concrete

Now we work seven days a week—when there are no Hindu, Newari, or Buddhist holidays, which seem to come every few days, so it is really a few days on, a day or two off.


Balram family quonset interior

But the family is so happy they will have a home again—and not have to live for the rest of their lives in a makeshift Quonset hut.  We are building beyond U.S. earthquake standards.


balram - sangita and safal

the family has been on this land for five generations


As you know, they are in the caste of tailors, and did all the sewing work for the community—clothes, curtains, bedding, etc. But over the years, due to ready-made options, their business declined and they became poor; then the father died; then the earthquake destroyed their house. They would never have been able to rebuild on their own.


katunje site making pillars rebar

the urban site actually has a lovely view


But the story gets more sad: when the father was sick (before he died ten years ago) the family sold most of their land to pay for his medical expenses (not surprisingly, this did not save his life); and they only held on to this last plot—just enough to build on and have a little left over for a vegetable garden. And since all the Government and international earthquake-recovery resources are focused on the mountain villages, MicroAid stepped up!


balram family santosh brick

head of the household since his father died with the first brick of their new home

Now that having a new house is becoming a reality for them—and I am showing up every day—we are getting to know one another.

dressed for a holy day visit to the temple

dressed for a holy day visit to the temple

It’s a great MicroAid moment when you start to see each member of the family as an individual—getting to know their personalities and the dynamic of the group. This, really, is the “magic” of this work.

katunje site overview 5 pillars

Thank you for being part of the process—helping people get back into a real home for generations to come.


katunje site women shovel gravel 3

teamwork—shoveling gravel


On a cultural note, many people here have asked me about this American concept of “the weekend”—they see it on TV—where we have two whole days of total leisure, and get together with friends for brunch, movies, concerts, art shows, museums, yoga, tennis, sailing, the gym, spa-days, etc. etc.  They don’t have any of that here.  It made me think about how many opportunities for entertainment we have. (Bowling!)  Here, they work six or seven days a week, and when they have time off, they wash clothes, cook, clean house, take care of family things, and maybe, watch a bit of TV—and learn about our vast amount of leisure time, and how we spend it.


brick factory in the pit

hard labor at the brick factory


We just don’t realize: in most places, there are no art galleries, sports arenas, symphony halls, theaters, or even bookstores or libraries. (They don’t lie around reading a novel, here, because there’s no place to get a book.) And, anyway, people just don’t have the time, or the money. So, let’s enjoy our “weekend” and the lucky fate that allows us that privilege.


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Some Holidays in Nepal

Jon Ross on Apr 24th 2016


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The project is moving forward here… but slowly.


katunje site setting pillars with concrete women

We work seven days a week—when there are no Hindu, Newari, or Buddhist holidays, which seem to come every few days, so it is really a few days on, a day or two off.

Traditional Newari dress

Traditional Newari dress


Last week was a fabulous Newari holiday week called Bisket.  Like New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving combined… every day for six days.  So only a couple of crew show up each day (because my builder is Newari!) and there was the actual Nepali New Year on May 13th.

bisket chariot wheel

For Bisket, though, in the nearby old town of Bhaktapur they have created a giant chariot (like the Hari Krishna one for Festival of Chariots. Come to think of it, it might have the same roots.)  Anyway, with this one, they play tug of war with it, through the narrow winding streets, surrounded by thousands of people.  Every year, people get crushed under the huge wheels. (The chariot is where we get the term Juggenaut.)  This year, one person died.  I’m went, but tried to stay far away from the chariot… I did not succeed.

bisket chariot coming down

Bisket was nuts. Bhaktapur is a town on a hill and the chariot starts at the top. They tug on the ropes until the thing comes careening down the alleys with people fleeing for their lives. The chariot is totally rickety, and huge, and pieces break off as it rumbles along and smashes into buildings. If you’re under it, or trapped in a narrow alley, forget it. Here’s a pic of it after it passed me.

bisket chariot passed

I was crushed into a side alcove with hundreds of people, but survived!  Then you make your way through back alleys to the next exciting down-slope.

bisket crowd party

It ends later at night with the chariot at a standstill in a big square. Huge party ensuing!

katunje site jon and purna ram

Now, back to builder-mode—just going to a construction site every day and watching them work, and going to the construction supply places, dealing with foreign money exchanges, and paying… paying… paying.  :0)  It’s a meditation practice.

brick factory - jon

Jon at brick factory.


brick factory toting wet bricks 2

But something fascinating happens everyday—either related to the job, or Nepali culture/festivals, observations about people and different traditions, or existential thoughts.


balram - sangita and safal


And the family is so happy.


dressed for a holy day visit to the temple

dressed for a holy day visit to the temple


In April, there was the Holi Festival on the 22nd. A national holiday celebrating spring.

Dousing people with water and throwing handfuls of colored pigment on them and rubbing it in their faces and hair is the order of the day. Kids with water balloons on rooftops and buckets of water. Mayhem in the small squares and narrow roads of the old towns. The “religious” part of the day: a man dressed in billowing robes and wearing a fearsome mask chases the throng—people flee as if being chased by the bulls in Pamplona.

Hopi festival dusted guy

I was invited by a super young engineer, whom I met on one of the sites I visited in the mountains, to join him and his friends back at their college a couple of hours south of Kathmandu in a town called Dhulikhel.


Hanging out in a small cinderblock room with his buds drinking beer and smoking pot (them) and eating boiled potatoes and listening to the Eagles (all) was a scene that could have played out anywhere on the planet where young people exist.

Jon Hopi Festival

Then we went into the town where they went off to find girls to douse and dust, and I took a bus, jam-packed with people with colored faces and clothes, back toward the city.

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