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The Year is 2068, and Not a Lag Bolt to be Found (Dispatch from Kathmandu)

August 8, 2011

Photo by Adarsh Thakuri. Some rights reserved.

Explanatory note: Two members of the Knowledge Mosaic engineering team, software engineer Tilak Pun and Chief Technology Officer Clif Swiggett, are currently in Nepal.  In the coming weeks, they’ll work to transport and set up their homemade solar power generator for students in the remote village of Shikha.  Accompanying Clif in Nepal are his wife Nelda and his teenage sons Jack and Dylan.  Read more about the Solar for Shikha project.

Dispatch from Kathmandu

Clif, Nelda, Dylan, and Jack arrived intact at the Trubhuvan Airport on the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal, on Thursday afternoon after a night near Incheon Airport (Seoul Korea) tracking down authentic Korean BBQ (and finding it!).  Here in Nepal it is no longer 2011, but 2068 instead.  Our watches are now set ahead 13 hours and 45 minutes from Seattle time.  Nepal marches to a different drummer.

After a smooth glide through customs, we were greeted at the airport by Tilak, Bagbir, Chimey, and Dipak who draped white cloth over our shoulders to honor the arrival.  It was wonderful to meet Bagbir after all this time, and to meet Chimey and Dipak (who work for Namaste Children’s Fund) as well.  Bagbir is a man on a mission, quick to laugh, with a gleam in his eye.  He is fully committed to helping kids get a good education that will open new possibilities for them and their community. 

The drive from the airport to our guest house was *wild*.  Traffic flows with the barest adherence to rules.  Near head on collisions are the norm.  Cars, trucks, motorcycles, rickshaws, cows, bicycles, and hordes of brave and multi-colored pedestrians engage in a frenetic dance, weaving, beeping, belching smoke, mooing, and darting out of the way of one another just in the nick of time.  Drivers from Seattle wouldn’t have a chance!

The city is a warren of twisty streets, people everywhere, buildings with hodgepodge additions that lean precariously, huge snarls of electric wires, piles of garbage, rubble that doubles as side walks.  It is the antithesis of urban planning!  Shops line the streets, most no bigger than the master bathroom of an average home in the states.  And in each of these nooks is an unexpected surprise.  A man sews multi-colored clothing with piles of fabrics stacked behind him, special hand made papers, grilled meats, raw carcasses, incredible spices, pots and pans of brass and clay stacked 20 feet high, drums, trumpets from India (just 5000 rupees = $70), computer parts from the 80’s, piles of old audio equipment, Hindi and Buddhist murals showing kaleidoscope  images of gods and men, war and love.  It goes on and on, beyond comprehension.  How can there be so many shops?  How can the proprietors survive?  How does it all “work”?

It was into this melee that we needed to dive to find several remaining tools and parts for the Solar Project.  Before leaving Seattle, we had decided to get certain items here in Nepal to support the local economy.   The implications of this decision were starting to sink in.  We spent 3 days with Dipak as our guide crisscrossing the city jammed into taxis, sipping tea, haggling, searching for rumored shops that didn’t exist, and occasionally taking a break to visit a beautiful stupa or temple.  The process was alternatively exhilirating and exhausting.  There were many false starts (try finding a lag bolt in Nepal — they don’t exist!).  But we managed to collect what we needed or adjusted our plans to use what we could find.  In the process we met wonderful people and got a feel for what day to day life is like for the Nepalese. What we purchased would have been easily available at Home Depot and taken 1-2 hours max to load into a car and take home.  In so many ways life here is vastly different than our own.

The crates arrived on Saturday with solar panels, batteries, computers, and other components.  They were only a week late, having crossed the Pacific by container ship to Bangkok, and then flown to Kathmandu.  It feels like a miracle!!  Bagbir and Tilak waited all day at customs on Sunday.  They managed to slip past the gangsters who prey on unsuspecting victims at the gates of the airport.  They were forced to pay the requisite unofficial “fees” to various customs officials.  And they emerged victorious with all the equipment intact. Everything was loaded into a truck and driven to a quiet lot near our guest house in the Thamil district where Bagbir and Tilak stood guard until the gates to the lot were closed.

This morning all is well and momentum is strong.  We (Tilak, Nelda, Dylan, Jack, and Clif) plan to fly to Pokhara this afternoon as Bagbir, Dipak, and a driver take the truck along the overland route to a small town the truck takes the land route.  Bagbir has arranged for 25 students to meet us near Bene (a village you won’t find on any map … and I’m not even sure how it is spelled) since the “road” to Garkhola has washed out.  Last week a jeep tumbled off this stretch of road into the cataracts of water below. Everyone was killed.  So we are leery to attempt the drive.  Bagbir has also invited the media to cover the project. We’ll hike in after swaddling the solar panels in carpet padding and wrapping the electronics in plastic to fend off the monsoon rains. The next post may be from Shikha — powered by the sun.

Thank you all so much for your help making this happen.

Clif, Nelda, Dylan, Jack, and Tilak
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