Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nepal’s Forgotten Dogs

Before I came to Nepal I had always heard about the stray dogs.  It wasn’t until I came here that I could fully comprehend just how bad the issue is.  Dogs are literally everywhere and they have varying degrees of ailments mostly brought on by hunger and pure neglect.  

This little pup was in Sankhu.

Dogs are a problem because people do not care for them or even consider their needs.  They do not understand that dogs are social creatures, which thrive on positive human attachment.  Even the ones that are kept as pets are often left tied up all day and night – consequently these poor animals spend a good portion of their time barking – for attention. 
This was a real cute stray.

Dogs end up on the streets as a stray due to people deciding that once the dog is mature – they do not want it anymore; and because none of the strays are neutered; so of course they will breed and add to the issue.  
Here in Changunarayan there are numerous strays.  They tend to hang around certain areas in the hope of a few food morsels.  Most are painfully thin, flea-ridden, some have weeping open sores, some have ticks, I am sure they all have worms and other parasites, some have mange and some are not too bad but certainly would deteriorate quickly if they did not manage to score a scrap of food everyday.

Two Changu strays. These two actually look pretty good!

One of the strays that hangs around the guesthouse. She tends to follow us as much as she is allowed to and is a real sweetie.

I heard travellers to Nepal say the dogs were not to be touched or petted due to the rabies problem.  I have also heard them say the dogs will attack if you get too close.  I have seen one rabid dog since being here – in Sankhu – the poor thing could barely stand it shook so much and walked as if it was brain-damaged. There was no way that poor thing was up to taking a chunk out of anyone.  I did not get rabies vaccinated before I came to Nepal, and after seeing the dogs and being around them I think it is over-kill to suggest the rabies shots are necessary. Prophylactic treatment is available if a bite is sustained but it is more likely to be from a monkey than a dog.  I have not had any dogs snarl at me or display body language suggesting that I keep my distance.

Another small pup in Sankhu scratching an itch.

This poor dog in Sankhu really upset me - it was so thin it was disturbing.

One of the most disturbing aspects for the strays is the way Nepali treat them.  These dogs are mostly scared of humans enough not to chase or hassle them.  This is because the Nepali are very abusive towards them – kicking them, throwing rocks at them, and I even saw a person beating one with a stick yesterday.  They give dogs no love, attention or care (unless they have a dog as a pet which is not a common occurrence like in New Zealand), and yet they do not actually understand that dogs are so loyal they will protect any person who shows a bit of kindness.
When in Kathmandu last week I saw a noticeboard advertising photos from an organisation that is attempting to protect the stray dogs. 

It is such a monumental task, because it is Nepali who need to be made aware and take responsibility for how they (mis) treat these animals; on the whole from what I have seen it is a generational attitude towards dogs that prevails, and sadly the pups learn from a very young age to be fearful of humans as they beat, kick and throw rocks at them right from the start of their lives.  The mere movement of bending down and pretending to pick up a rock to throw will send a dog running.
Here at Starview Guesthouse there are four “regulars” that hang around.  They are so excited to see us come back in the evening from a day in Sankhu, and are so loyal they follow us down the hill – in fact we lost one of the strays a few days ago – a painfully thin dog that just did not come back at the end of the day even though the others did.  

Strays coming along while we check shelters in Changu.

One of the guesthouse strays asleep on the step.

These dogs get some attention, a bit of food and Amanda even bought flea and tick powder – but we need to initiate a team effort to apply it.  They are sweet little dogs that just want human company – because that’s what dogs do – they wait for a bit of love. They are not allowed in the house though even though they sneak in; but they are not pets of the guesthouse - simply strays that hang out there perhaps because they know the foreigners will treat them well.
Chris surrounded by the guesthouse strays.

Even as I sit in my room now writing this blog, I can hear an orchestra of dog barks in the distance.  I think of all the strays curling up for the night on some cold doorstep that is not their own and I think of the poor dogs who are on the verge of death because no one will even throw them the smallest mouthful of food.  I also imagine the earthquakes really shook things up for dogs too.  Perhaps a new age of Nepali can lead a change in attitude towards their dogs; to take responsibility for ensuring they neuter their pet (if they can afford to; at least if they do turf it out onto the streets after it matures it will not add to the dog problem); and to develop NGO’s which create an awareness about the value dogs can actually add to ones life if treated properly. 
Sadly – I do not think anything is going to change anytime soon.

The guesthouse dogs come out for a walk with us to the bus stop. We lost one in the process sadly.

Shelters for Sankhu

We have been in Nepal for just over a week now and the original plan was to help the people of Changunarayan rebuild what we could and to perhaps make some temporary shelters. After assessing, by comparison, the people of Sankhu – a larger town on the Kathmandu Valley floor about 1.5 hours walk from Changunarayan, needed more urgent help as the scale of damage was monumental. It was the hardest hit town in the Kathmandu valley.  When we visited Sankhu we were all in agreement that this place really could do with extra help, as we noticed many people living in tents or out in public places such as building veranda’s.  It was decided Sankhu would get our immediate help, and Changunarayan after we had completed the building project in Sankhu.  People were getting on with ‘business as usual” and trying to rebuild their stunning ancient town as best they could.
We were lucky to meet Dilip, who appears genuinely interested in helping his fellow townsfolk and being able to construct the shelters on his property was a huge help for us.  Dilip has also been extremely helpful in sourcing building materials and all the things we need – even if it does take forever and often gets forgotten! He has a good kind heart and I feel he is working in our best interest.  Of course all the surrounding shops are benefitting too as we eat everyday at the cafĂ© across the road operated by a young couple, and we purchase our supplies in the village, plus other goodies such as Nepali donuts (AMAZING when just fresh), and biscuits.  

Lovely Nepali woman who cooks our lunch in her small cafe. 

I placed a water filter on the tap at Dilip’s house and so now we do not have to buy umpteen water bottles in a day and add to the already enormous litter problem in this country.

Water filter in action at our building site which is making the workers there very happy.

I have placed half the water filters there plus I have also had a chance to teach some children in one of the local schools. It has been incredibly rewarding so far.

I just loved this little girls school bag ... "DEATH"! I am certain they do not understand what it says!

Nepali school children doing their "english". Even the teacher could barely understand me, so I am not sure how these kids will get on speaking it!

The frustration with “the way we do things around here” is far out-weighed by the beauty of the people, the opportunity to help and the chance to make new friends.  It has been emotional, heart-warming and humbling. I have loved every second of my time here so far, even the walk back up the hill from the bus stop on the main road (about 40 minutes down the hill from Changunarayan) which is no walk in the park after being out in scorching heat all day working in Sankhu.

The view from Changu. We walk a track down this hill to catch a bus at the bottom every day.

As a team, Steve, Sam and I work pretty well together and we have had a steady hand from Chris – an American also staying at Starview Guesthouse in Changu.  He has been documenting our progress with the building project.

The second shelter going up and Chris filming the action.

The project has been to complete ten houses by this Wednesday or Thursday if possible.  That has now gone by the way-side as things have gone much much slower than expected due to all the problems we have had with tools and equipment. Today we completed the first home in situ for a very elderly man in amongst an extremely damaged area, and we are part way through a second house with a third also waiting for assembly at the site. 

    The elderly man we built the first shelter for.

One completed shelter in situ.

We transported the house in parts on a weird contraption common to Nepal, sort of a small half tractor which is an experience to ride on!

Little tractor thing that hauls our material to the sites.

Placing the parts to assemble the houses (made from metal frames and corrugated iron) to the spots is very challenging as access is usually awkward - this is a town that has literally fallen down, with only the modern buildings surviving; so the more central part of town is mostly collapsed as that is where the original ancient homes were. 

 We erected the second shelter in amongst this in a space cleared by the      recipient.

   The third site is a dream in comparison!

When I look at the places people have been living since this quake destroyed their home three months ago, I feel very humbled and sad.  It was very touching to be able to complete the first home today for the elderly man (who is mute).  Right next door to him was a woman living in a tent – so hard … how to choose who gets what?

   Dilip in amongst the rubble.

We have the aim of completing and erecting two more houses by the end of tomorrow – working around the power cuts and any other tool malfunction (and there will be!).  

The generator that just about saw Steve in tears.  What could possibly go wrong next ...!

Yesterday we hired a generator to use whilst the power was out.  Sadly it could not cope with the load the welder drew, and stopped going.  Soon after that the power went out for four hours and we ran out of battery in the portable drill.  Steve was not impressed.  
Sam, Chris Livio (an Italian also staying at the guesthouse) and myself, all decided to go and help someone in the town until the power came back on as none of us wished to be sitting around. We grabbed the shovel I had purchased the previous day and soon found some people digging out a pathway to their home. We all got stuck in and after an hour had the pile of foul-smelling mud, brick and litter “glob” almost completely removed.  Now THAT was a really satisfying thing to do and we will spend the power–off days doing the same thing.

Helping people dig to kill time between power outages.

Today the welder blew up; an extra cordless drill purchased to help assemble houses with more efficiency couldn't cope with the heavy metal box section framing, and the heat was so fierce we all felt like our batteries had also died!
It is a challenge indeed to get the job done and our original plan of having ten houses up and running by this weekend looks to be stretching further and further back. This worries me as now I know there will be no time left to devote to Changunarayan - which was why I originally came here.  Even though the damage is not as severe as in Sankhu - not by any stretch of the imagination - people here still need and want help.  

   Changu kids ... and stray dog.

Changu - a great village for kids to be raised and to visit.

There is clearing still to do; building projects happening and some people who could do with modifications to their homes. I guess the take away lesson from all this is not to go against the grain - this is Nepal and it is what it is.  There is an inherent respect in 'getting' this, and also life will be a lot less stressful than attempting to make comparisons with how things are done somewhere else.  I can see why things take so long here.  I imagine people will be digging out their homes in Sankhu for the next six months at least given the scale of damage, and the fact that Nepal runs on its own time.  People simply do not have the means to get stuck in and make things happen quickly; everything is done by hand - literally. 

Beautiful old Sankhu home.

I look at the beautiful old damaged buildings and I think New Zealand would possibly make some attempt to retain as much heritage as possible but would more than likely bowl anything over that presents a further earthquake risk.  Here the Nepali just re-do the brick work the same way they always did and life goes on.  They live in amongst it and make do.  
Its very humbling.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Finding Sankhu

After settling into Starview Guesthouse at Changunarayan and looking at the damage in the village; Sam, Chris, Steve and I decided to check out a nearby village we had heard suffered immense damage during the quake - 98% of buildings were damaged and they had many deaths. Sankhu (pronounced Sar-koo) is located further up the Kathmandu Valley and is not on a hill like Changu, so it experienced more of the rolling effect of the quake.  This ancient village was once an important stop on the old trade route from Kathmandu to Lhasa in Tibet.  

From Changu we could walk to the bus stop at the bottom of the hill and then catch a bus into Sankhu (an experience not to be missed!).

Bus stop to Sankhu

Buses in Nepal are wall to wall bodies.

Roading is a little different to what is 'normal' in the western world. There is often no quick way to go somewhere and routes can be very 'round-about'. Walking between villages appears to be common practice here, and the walk to Sankhu is about 1-2 hours from Changunarayan at a cruisey 'tourist' pace.  

The walking tracks between villages and into the main road are everywhere.

Walking down the hill from Changunarayan was interesting as the rains really play havoc with the stone paths and mud tracks - so of course it gets very very slippery; and its steep!

Lone woman working in the rice field

People walking the track and dogs are always there too.

The walk itself was a feast for the eyes - stunning vivid green rice fields, beautiful brick homes, people working and going about their day - stopping to watch these four foreigners walk by; the views were just breath-taking; reaffirming time and time again what an absolutely stunning country Nepal is. 

Walking down from Changunarayan to the valley and on to Sankhu.

Beautifully ordered rice fields.

The walk to the bus stop took us about 45 minutes or maybe an hour (I don't find myself checking the time much at all since I have been here) and we caught a bus into Sankhu after walking several more kilometers.

The town gates that we walked through on arrival.

As we approached the village I could see some damaged buildings but I was not at all prepared for what I saw as we walked through the ancient main village gates - it looked as if someone had unleashed a series of bombs.  

Mud was metres high.

I was feeling pretty emotional about what I saw and walking around through the devastation there was practically nothing left undamaged that was of the older style building .

Bricks, mud and litter lined the streets.

What really struck me was how people managed to rise up ... in amongst the rubble and broken buildings, small shops were trying to do business, people were working clearing rubble in what seemed to me  to be a wall of mud that had washed through the village.  There was a thick layer of this stuff which the next day when we came back had been cleared by a dozer down the main street.  It would be difficult not to be affected by the level of devastation here and I thought about the villagers and how it must have been on the day of the first quake for them all - terrifying I am sure.  

It was all too much to take in.

We waded our way through gluggy mud, not really sure what to do or where to go next - it just all seemed too much to take in.  At least in Changunarayan there is still the heart of the village and a more tangible realism that the village will return to normal or better - but here in Sankhu, it seemed it would be an impossible dream to return it to the quaint ancient town it once was.

An elderly couple are slowly digging out their house that was buried in mud.

We could see the need here for help was paramount. Signs of immediate disaster response was everywhere - USAID tents and tarps; tents from the Chinese, Koreans and various other countries were everywhere and we could see people constructing corrugated iron shelters amongst the numerous ones already up.


A small boy tries to push his bike up over the rubble.

We decided to talk to a local to ask about what we could do - we all decided we really wanted to at least lend a hand here - the desire to just 'muck in' with the locals digging and removing rubble is very high, but we wanted to know first if they actually wanted us to do that - to help.  We asked a young man dressed in white (we later found out men must wear white for a year if their father has passed away ... there were a lot of men dressed in white in Sankhu) if he knew of people that needed immediate assistance.  
"Wait" he says "I will take you to my brother" (everybody has a brother, cousin, Aunty they can call at a moments notice).
We walk through another seemingly endless row of broken houses, mangey skinny dogs; thick gluggy black mud and are introduced to this guys brother - Dilip - a well-spoken Nepali who seems to be very excited about us being here and takes us straight away to a cluster of tents and make-shift shelters where people have been living since the quakes. 

Dilip takes us to people hard hit by the quake - the homeless.

Everywhere you look there are clusters of tents and shelters. In this particular group of tents and shelters there are 10 families living; they have no clean drinking water (a big problem after the quakes) and they are living in pretty harsh conditions.

Kids playing in the mud and dirt.

There are many tents like this in Sankhu.

Make-shift shelters are everywhere.

As I sat and listened to the discussions about how this family or that family was in great need (1000 people in the village still need a shelter someone said) I started thinking about what a monumental task it is to have everyone in a shelter before winter. The immediate response people come in with tents, tarps, some food and some water purification tablets and then they go.  There appears to be nothing to bridge the gap between being in a tent and getting a shelter. If you have money then maybe you can build yourself something; and most families did get iron through the Government, but the aid money is being drip-fed to ensure it isn't misappropriated, so there seems to be many people still in tents and some just sleeping in public buildings - not an ideal situation at all for the winter.  Then there is the other question - of who gets what and how do we decide which people are more in need of a shelter over anyone else?

A man sleeps in a public building.

After much discussion Steve organised with Dilip to construct 10 shelters and that we would start building the next day, using his large home with a big yard as a construction area. 

Steve doing the building deal with Dilip who seems to have all the right contacts for materials.

All I could think of was "are these 10 shelters going to end up only going to Dilip's family and how do we ensure this doesn't happen".  Certainly if he had family in dire need he would have helped them; he appeared well-dressed (also in white), well-spoken and educated.  He told us he owns three businesses and was doing social work; that he had already been involved in constructing 127 shelters for people in the village.  We didn't really have time to waste figuring all this out as our trip to Nepal is short - we needed to make the most of the little time we had, plus Steve was needing to get up to the Everest region.  We just had to trust that the shelters would go to those who really needed them; not just various family members.
We walked back into the business area of Sankhu and ordered the materials after deciding how best to construct the shelters and I got my first glimpse of "this is Nepal" when we put people on the spot for when things would arrive to enable us to crack on with the task.  There always seems to be numerous loud animated discussions over what should be the simplest of things, and often a simple question requiring a simple response will draw several locals as they all debate the best way to approach something.  I quite enjoy watching this approach to problem-solving but certainly do not advocate it as a way to get things done quickly!
The next day we needed to be in Sankhu to capitalise on when the power would be on.  In Nepal they have programmed power outages which means there are only certain times of the day when anything requiring power can be used. Steve decided to go earlier as Dilip was supposedly getting a generator organised (which did not happen - this is Nepal!) and Chris, Sam and I followed about 45 minutes later.  I took several water filters with me and placed these in some homes.  This was one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Nepal was to offer a way to have clean water for drinking, without needing to boil it.  Nepal is a muddy, dirty place anyway during monsoon and people just deal with the conditions because thats the way it has always been - but after the quake there is of course the risk of disease.  It was a satisfying thing to place that first water filter - the woman appearing a little emotional, and certainly I felt that way also.

This family invited Chris and I in for chia and biscuits after I repaired their filter. They were so lovely.

The first day on the "building site" (at Dilip's house in Sankhu) we managed to accomplish a reasonable amount - cutting steel and sorting things for the houses. We were cooked a traditional Nepali meal by Dilip's wife, plus I had been invited to drink tea with a family who needed their water filter (placed previously by someone) repaired. They were so grateful they asked me to stay and I ended up playing with their young three year-old daughter for some time. She could read and write English - at three!

This gorgeous family lived in a small tin shelter and were so grateful for their water filter.

The reality of attempting to build temporary homes started to sink in when of course the scheduled power outages stopped us from getting the work done as quickly as needed. We were also gob-smacked at the "health and safety" (NOT) that is present and also some of the equipment we had to work with. 

The infamous welder.

Steve was becoming increasingly frustrated with the archaic welder (ha -ha) which would weld a weak seam at best and we had to fashion a welding "mask" out of three pairs of sunglasses.

Best welders mask ever; better than THIS one ...

The man in the iron mask - the trick is to hold the mask with one hand and weld with the other!

Builder labourers who are working on Dilips house which was damaged in the quake.

The first of the building materials arrives at Dilips house.

 Someone told Steve - "don't try to change Nepal - let Nepal change you"; I think those are very wise words.
Even though we are on a bit of a time frame; I had accepted long before we came that things would be done slowly and possibly may not get done; the reality of attempting to build ten shelters in a country that does not seem to believe in planning anything, is a major challenge! As the only girl on this trip I really didn't feel I could suggest we aim for a more realistic number (who listens to a girl anyway), but I am quite enjoying being a hammer hand although the heat is oppressive - in fact it is SO hot I feel my scalp burning. I have never experienced that before!  Best to go with the flow and eat Mo-Mo!