Sunday, February 7, 2010

Well, here we are at that time of the year again after having collected, stored, washed and packed hundreds of fleece jackets that have been collected from Massachusetts to New Jersey and even as far away as San Jose, California! We also have 4th graders from our local elementary school who went the extra mile and collected many boxes of much needed school supplies that will be distributed among remote village schools high in the Himalayas. This has been a massive effort on the part of many individuals who have eagerly embraced the work of The Himalayan Project and I am filled with gratitude for all of their commitment and hard work........thank you, thank you, thank you!
It really is a logistical nightmare to transport 22 body size duffel bags to the airport and check them all in so I hold my breath until that is accomplished. Date of departure is February 18th and date of arrival in Kathmandu is February 20th. With the 101/2 hour time change and LOTS of wait time in London and Delhi, I will be a zombie when we touch down but the adrenaline will be pumping.......let the games (or should I say trekking) begin!!!!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Climbing up onto the Tibetan Plateau

How do we act in the presence of what we cannot fully understand or control? What does it take, in other words, to be in the presence of wildness? Where do we place our trust? The fear of letting go of everything that is comfortable and familiar and learning to listen to that little voice that has not often been allowed to express itself…….

I asked that perhaps I might be big enough and open enough to receive what was there to receive and humble enough to not ask for more.

Feast your eyes on the landscape that enveloped us for the next leg of our journey as we climbed up from the Kali Gandaki River onto the Tibetan Plateau, swallowed up and embraced by the utter vastness!

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Mighty Kali Gandaki

Mustang……..a land of mystery, intrigue, complex history and certainly one of the most visually stunning regions of Nepal. We have just returned from 3 weeks of trekking through this last forbidden kingdom, diverging extensively from the main trail that leads to the Tibetan border, and distributing 600 fleece jackets to four villages nestled into the virtually treeless, barren blue, gray and red cliffs that are reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. Many of these villages had early beginnings in a network of caves, much like the early peoples of the American Southwest, and still these dwellings are in use as meditation retreats for the Tibetan Buddhist population of Upper Mustang.
We were accompanied by my beloved friend and guide, Karsang Sherpa, 3 assistant guides, Mingma Dorje Sherpa, Pasang Sherpa and Kansa Rai whom I have known for 11 years…… our cook Purakitta and 4 kitchen boys, Mingma, Ram Kumar, Maila, and Jetta……and finally a mule and horse train of 20! Quite a merry little band transporting all of our food and cooking fuel and camping gear for 2 ½ weeks, plus 17 duffle bags full of fleece jackets.
As we started out by following the mighty Kali Ghandaki riverbed, mere specks in the landscape of towering sandstone cliffs that closed in on both sides of us, I was acutely aware that the length of our trek was very predictable……we had obtained a permit that allowed us 2 weeks to “peek” into the inner workings of this restricted culture that had only allowed foreigners access to it since 1992. I picked my way along the riverbed littered with “saligrams”, black stones that, when broken open, reveal the fossilized remains of prehistoric ammonites formed more than 140 million years ago. And like the riverbed, I knew the length of it, but realized I must nurture the width and the depth of the journey ahead. What were the physical challenges that lay ahead? How receptive would the villagers be upon our unannounced arrival? As much as I try and prepare for each year’s trek into the wilds of Nepal, part of the allure for me is the adventure of the unknown……no blueprints, no expectations, a willingness to answer the call of spontaneity, inviting disturbance and reshuffling my assurances!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I've arrived in Kathmandu!

I awoke this morning just as a slight hint of dawn was beginning to outline the foothills that surround Kathmandu and I decided to assuage the sensory overload that consumes me upon arrival here every year and make my way through the still sleeping city to Boudhanath, a sanctuary of Tibetan Buddhist culture. In the wee morning hours every day, this World Heritage site becomes a destination for Tibetan refugees and Buddhist pilgrims who light butter candles around the massive base of the centuries-old temple, one of Central Asia’s most sacred Buddhist structures. It resembles an enormous white dome topped by a tall golden ziggurat and the disembodied eyes of Buddha peer down from this soaring multi-tiered stupa. As the only Westerner, I joined the hundreds of pilgrims who circumambulate clockwise around the stupa, chanting “Om mani padme hum”, “hail to the jewel in the lotus”, while fingering the string of mani beads, precursor to the rosary beads of Catholicism. I am drawn to this ritual many times every year when I am here as I feel a wonderful connection to feminine energy……..the fading of the moon as the dawn appears, the circular nature of walking koura around this huge, onion shaped dome, the repetitive chanting over and over and over. Later in the day this site will be visited by hundreds of tourists passing through Kathmandu, but this early morning ritual before the day grabs hold is a wonderful grounding for me.
As always, Kathmandu is pulsating with the rhythms of everyday subsistence……with no focus on making a better life but simply on how to stay alive. The chaos of vehicles, from taxis to trucks, bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles and rickshaws, not to mention the sacred cows, all contribute to the city’s dusty pandemonium. This year, the ubiquitous brown haze that surrounds the Kathmandu valley is especially noticeable as the city still awaits the cleansing rains of winter. And it is always unsettling to see the same disturbing images of poverty, year after year, throughout the city. The same little shoeshine boy with no shoes of his own, the hoards of maimed and disfigured children set out on the streets to work for their families and the multitudes of homeless who were chased in from the countryside years ago by the Maoist insurgents. Life here is raw, in the moment and very public…….from birth to death and everything in between. It’s truly a lesson for me about how fragile the human condition really is……..

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ready To Go!

I'm finally ready for departure tomorrow! You can see I'll be accompanied by lots of fleece and school supplies as I travel through London, Delhi and finally Kathmandu when I arrive on Wednesday morning. I'm soooooo excited to be returning to my "heart" home but anxious to get the logistics of moving through all the airports behind me. I know without a doubt that Nepal, as difficult as it sometimes can be, nourishes and nurtures my heart and soul. Sir Edmund Hillary had a wonderful statement after his summit of Mt Everest......."I am moving to discover the person I'll be when I get there."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Buried in Fleece

Today I am buried in hundreds of pieces of fleece clothing as I examine all the zippers, snaps, buttons and organize everything by size. This is the culmination of a year long effort of visiting schools throughout New England and presenting an interactive program called "A Day in the Life of a Nepali Child" in order to educate students about how their peers are living and going about their daily activities half way around the world.

Me on the far right with a gaggle of my favorite female porters. We were greeted by the villagers with handmade leis made from the national flower, Rhododendron.

As we near local villages, the word goes out that the "Jacket Lady" is on her way. Knowing not to miss out on the chance to keep warm with these colorful fleeces, hundreds of curious and hopeful villagers have shown up for their chance to see western faces and to receive a warm jacket.

From the very young, to the very old curious onlookers.

The students become very engaged in the process as I ask them to donate any outgrown or unused fleece jackets from their households. I especially love the "recycled" aspect of this and always think it's an important lesson to reinforce! Now I am packing, packing, packing 20-24 body-sized duffel bags that will accompany me to Nepal when I leave on April 6th. Over the last 8 years I have assembled an amazing Nepali "team" of sirdars (guides), assistant guides, cooks, kitchen staff and porters who will trek for a month with me into extremely remote regions of the country to distribute this clothing, usually attracting lots of curious attention as most people have never before seen a Western face. We will be carrying all of the fleece duffel bags, all of our food, all of our cooking fuel and camping equipment as this year we make our way up onto the Tibetan Plateau in Mustang, on the northern border of Nepal.

Namaste !

One of my greatest joys is to carefully photograph the "journey of the jackets", from the time that they leave the students who have collected them to their final destination high in the Himalayas. When I return stateside in June, I will re-visit each school and show the students what an amazing impact their efforts have made to those in need half-way around the world! It's very tangible too when I transport pen pal letters back and forth, uniting Nepali children with school children in America. But perhaps the most touching and poignant aspect of this program has been in the inner city schools where student populations feels incredibly marginalized and disengaged. I have been absolutely amazed by their enthusiasm and the tender realization that they TOO can make a difference in the world! However, I always try to leave them with a very, very specific message: Even though MY passion and MY heart took me half way around the world to try and make a difference, every student out there can do the same thing in his/her own backyard.I just want to encourage each and every one of them to dream and then run with chart their own, unrefined, maybe messy adventures, becoming aware of our interdependence as the global community increasingly shrinks. I think we all play a role, however small or seemingly insignificant, in the melding of cultures around the world and I would love to see education adopt as a primary objective the nurturing of first hand interactions with the staggering beauty and diversity of our planet.

Could that fleece hat and jacket be any cuter?

Here, children from the remote village of Mehta, near the Tibetan border, don hats made by the local school kids here in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts. This village is high up in the Himalayas, far above the tree line, so dwellings are literally carved into the face of the mountains. Clothing is often made from heavy woollen cloth and animal skins.

Here we set up camp on the only area flat enough for our tents, the top of a goat shed.

One of my greatest joys is to see the smiles.