Tag Archives: Janakpur

2012-02 Janakpur: Week 5 in photos part 2

Part 2 of week 5 photos – Gallery Style. Enjoy!

2012-02 Tea or Coffee?

This is something I wrote last week but havent had 5minutes to post!
It’s Delan’s penultimate day – I’m running around like Crazy trying to get my film done 2 more days shooting then editing and translating into Nepali – Mathali and English… crazy difficult!

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I’ve just been woken up by Kamnish with my morning cup of sweet coffee. After some truly horrific coffee experiences in India – I distinctly recall one cup of “Italian” coffee that I ordered in Jaisalmer which was a mixture of instant, masala spice and bits of what really can only be described as crushed wood – I swore never to drink coffee whilst here in Nepal. I even brought a cafeteria with me (a little two cup Bodium number) and two bags of Whittard’s breakfast blend gifted to me than my sister Natalia this Christmas. Despite this I’ve slipped into this morning order which occurs regularly between 730 and eight o’clock. The error on this delivery time makes planning to leave in the morning a little bit interesting but I don’t complain as it services are definitely more pleasant alarm clock down my iPhone whose repeat alarms I have over the years become quite immune to. The With so many iPhone users out there and sure in a few of you will have had such similar experiences. Overall I find that good coffee is really hard to come by on the subcontinent with the exception of places where Western influence is overpoweringly abound. Delhi – where there are boutique coffee shops like Starbucks and Kathmandu – or rather specifically Thamel (backpacker district) which is so westernised that good Coffey came as a natural sequitur to pursuing tourist dollar.
My efforts here in Janakpur been aimed at upgrading from office tea office coffee. During the working day at MIRA one is fortunate to have the attentive service of the lovely Bimla – all-round wonder woman who takes care of our every need. She and I have quite a rapport (or at least I think we do!) And really she deserves a separate blog post in her own right – suffice to say that office tea occurs between five and 10 times daily in small glass cups of sweet ginger tinted sugary water.

Tea - definitely the most popular drink in Nepal
Tea “Chia” (or Chai – if you’ve been to India) is the normally served very sweet and with plenty of milk – not much of a caffiene punch but the sugary drive perks up the spirits. Served hot – even in 55degree C heat!

I search of this goal I have deprived myself of my 2 cup coffee brewer in my hotel room and a translocated coffee grounds they bought in Thamel to the office in pursuit of this goal. Unfortunately the quality of his Coffee seems to be lacking both in strength and in substance. One problem is that the grain has been ground too fine and as such there is always a fine silt at the bottom of the coffee. Furthermore Bimla insists on brewing the coffee with sweet instant milk which sets the whole thing off with a slightly bizarre chemically orientated saccharine aftertaste. Not ideal but at least it does give a little bit of a kick while you’re working.

Overall Bimla enjoys producing this concoction and just as with the hotel I seem to have got used to it. I feel in many ways that my adaption to things here in Janakpur – the food, the smell, the general lifestyle and of course the curious coffee may leave me in an odd retreat when I get home. One thing’s for sure I will be sorry to have left off alcohol for this period. My previous assertions that this was a great place to get work done have indeed been satisfied and despite the extended conclusion of the study (I had really hoped that it would be completed within one week rather than two) I have been able to score a number of things of the list and have gotten studying done to boot.
Nevertheless, I have found myself reaching for another drink during the day as I feel my habitual coffee use over the last six years of medical school has left me with a physiological need to some extent for caffeine stimulation. The drink of course is Red Bull – but not the branded variety you getting United Kingdom with its carefully labelled caffeine content – the raw Thai export version complete with all sorts of added extras. I’m not sure if it does have any substantially different qualities and maybe it’s the relative lack of other sources of caffeine in my general situation during the day but I seem to find my senses greatly heightened when I drink one down. I tried a little experiment the other day, drinking can of the stuff before I went on a journey on the back of motorbike. I shut my eyes the entire 15 min journey and drank in the sounds and smells of the city as we flew along. Things were incredibly vivid and maybe trip my mind in another way about thinking what it would be like to live here as a sight or hearing impaired person (come to the conclusion that I think it would be incredibly difficult and you may very well risked death by just simply stepping out into the street). After open my eyes my eyes were set by such a blue clarity as I haven’t known for quite a while.

Working hard – My Thai Red Bull hiding in the background of my room service chicken dinner.

So I’m not exactly sure what goes into this substance but it seems to more than replace my need for coffee during the day. Indeed the office staff have adapted to my daily reconnaissance for Red Bull which I then consume at my leisure on the grass in front of the MIRA building along with a packet of biscuits – who would have ever known that there are so many different types of cashew nut biscuit? Many abhore the taste of the stuff – but I guess the nascent associations with the good kick I get out of it has adapted my palate somewhat to the acrid substance. So… after a temporary reprieve from coffee we will have to see whether or not I return to my old ways back in kathmandu and onward to London – although the thought of trying to do finals without coffee seems a bit ridiculous!

Summary: Coffee is a tricky business on the subcontinent – Nepal is no exception. Plan carefully if you’re a coffee fanatic – or try other “local” specialities – like Thai Red Bull?!

Best wishes,

Seb

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POST SCRIPT my poor old cafeitiere – brought all the way from London has turned up cracked- I will be starting my investigation forthwith – in the mean time coffeeless again!

2012-02 Two Short Films: Sarswarti Day and Pulling down the Tree

I’ve got reams and reams of footage so far from Kathamandu and Janakpur which I haven’t been able to do anything with. I finally set down a couple of 1 minute sketches of some of the ideas which I have been discussing in previously posts. These two short films are from my second week here. I will be sending up several more when I get the chance to work through some of the footage. I remember a talk by the old dean of Westminster Abbey when i was a youngling in the choir there… He used to say that for 1 minute’s worth of a sermon it takes a least 1 hour to write it. I’m not writing a sermon of course but these 1 minute shorts are about the same amount of investment. 1 hour in the creation 1 minute in the watching.

Once I’ve got a bit more of a handle on the inner workings of wordpress I’ll be able to present embeded Youtube videos – for the minute however please click the links to get to see the Videos.

Video 1: Sarswarti Puja Day – being mobbed by kids in the School

Sarwati Day: Janakpur

Video 2: Pulling down the trees on Barhabiga

Pulling down the tree

2012-02 Janakpur – Week 2 Photos

Here’s my Week two Batch of Photos: Hope you enjoy them!

Morning Mists in Janakpur

The Guard Dog
Each morning in the first couple of weeks we would journey accross the road to Bimla’s house to eat our morning meal. This dog was always there to greet us with savage barking. I snapped this one . Overtime he got used to us and began to only apathetically chirp when we would arrive in the morning. These days Bimla prepares our food in the office as we’ve got so much work to do.

This is the one shot i was able to grab of the student protestors marching loudly through the streets. Whilst eating the morning meal we heard a loud noise from the road – looking out – this is what greeted us. These days the protests have passed – being replaced instead with the constant noise from the Festival on Barhabiga.

Boy on a Buffallo
Children keep watch over the extreemly valuable cattle by litterally riding them – adults till the land using oxen ploughs.

Working Hard in Janakpur
A man working really hard – not an infrequent sight!

Getting mobbed by kids is par for the course for Janakpur

Slowly but surely during the second week the Puja focal point was built on Barhabiga

Pulling down the trees on Barhabiga

Rural Woman: Dhanusha
A rolling shot taked with a “from the hip” style whist Rupesh and I zipped along on the bike

A suspicious Shrine attendant on Sarswarti Day

Cresent Moon and a Bat Blur
With Bats Flying overhead at dusk I spotted the slivered cresent moon between the trees on the way back from work… The blur on the upper right is a bat which trailed accross my exposure

Local Shop keeper who supplies my daily Thai Red bull and buscuits (I’m steadily making my way through all the different sorts). He only occasionally trys to rip me off 🙂 – most shop keepers here in Janakpur are very honest considering the little difference it makes for a foreign wallet purchasing things….

Brick production on the outskirts of Janakpur
Brick Production on the outskirts of the city: According to Bishnu these guys very frequently get TB from the poor working conditions – working in a dusty environment… I was trying to ruminate the aetiology of this one. Any suggestions from the floor?

A team of men in the Rural villages
A crowd gathered each time we stopped in the villages to find the study families – this group posed for a group photo. The children as usual were maximally curious to see their images afterwards – I wish I had a mobile printer!

Working up on the veranda
Working up on the veranda at the office is a pleasure – watching the local children playing and having a least a sliver of sun in the morning is worth the pounding of the generator above me

2012-02 All nighters and Almost done

Post Script – Internet shut off at the hotel just as I was about to post this last night – and once again at the office just now – third time lucky…
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Very tired from working non-stop on calibration study and work for clients back in the UK in the evenings. Pulling an all nighter tonight finishing 12 videos for a client so relaxing and listening to one of my favorite Albums “Long gone before daylight” by the Cardigans. If we achieve what we’ve scheduled for the study today (It’s 3am with me and I’m going to be at the office at 7am) we’ll be at 95%… It really has been an exponential climb in difficulty these last few days and we’ve had to be as cunning and as ingenious as we can to get the children we need. The blood pressure has been up and down this week as I play child catcher trying desperately to get the last of the children.
The “1 million” people festival started today – I didnt see it first hand as I spent the most of the day on the back of a bike chasing down parents to consent. Apparently i was quite a sight with women balancing flower pots on their heads in processo toward the big Puja site (at least I think it’s a Puja site?) In Barhabiga. If i get a chance I’ll steal out with my camera so that I can catch some of the colour. The poles as I suspected transformed into Awnings for an arcade of shopping. This is as far as I’ve got with this mystery so we shall see what evolves over the coming days. I have a feeling things will heat up a bit more on the weekend (saturday) when everyone gets the day off.

Delan and I have in the course of our journeys been promoted to the status of local celebrities. Suzanne has recovered from her illness and is back to her old self making a romp through areas of the 6 page hotel menu that she hasnt explored yet – we were worried that she wouldnt make it (having been really quite unwell these past few days) but it’s great to hear of her enthusiasm for gustatory cravings and the re-newed delight in her perpetual room service orders.

In honour of the occasion the kitchen made a heart shaped Peas Pulao.

Heart shaped Peas Pullao
Heart shaped peas pullao in honour of Suzannes rise to wellness

Best wishes…will post some of the more interesting stories in the coming days once i’ve had a chance to rest up a bit.

2012-02 Slow progress and Fixit for Nepal?

So this is my third week here in Janakpur. We are creeping slowly and steadily up with the study but reaching the point at which it becomes increasingly difficult. In this study to aim to get representative values for the entire range of body weights of Janakpur’s children – so… rather than proportional representation we are recruiting children equally throughout the range. The upshot of this is that the extremes of weight, the very small and very large children, are much more difficult to recruit as they are, according to the normal distribution, much fewer in number. We are currently chasing schools and children who need to become recalled from the main study but we’re not having as much luck as with our initial forays last week where we were concerted effort able to recruit 140 children over several dedicated days (of which about 90 so far have turned up). At the close of play today we need to recruit about another 30 children – 30% of our sample… Frustrating considering the speed at which we launched out the gates (we did the first 40% in ONE day!)…but that is the nature of the beast with this kind of study.

Jonathan left yesterday back to Kathmandu and is spending his last night in the lovely Rana Palace, the Shankar hotel… relaxing somewhat before heading back – a flying visit that was very helpful for us on the study although he’s set the bench high on what we have to achieve (vis a vis above). Hopefully Delan has had some useful input on his Ph.D. – from what I could see from their conversations Jonathan unearthed another barrow full of references to chase -something I remember fondly (now – though at the time it was perhaps more of a cause for a headache!) during my BSc year with him. On the flip side he gave Good reports of both the study and of Janakpur – although I’m sure he’d prefer it if there were a few more mountains around the place!

Elsewhere in Janakpur things are shaping up on Barhabiga – there is now a roster of poles driven into the ground on the northern side which I anticipate will evolve into awnings and perhaps food tents or accommodation for the upcoming festival. I’ll be interested to see what the waste output will be from this festival – specifically the plastics and other nonbiodegradable substances. The area is already strewn with rubbish so I’ll be very surprised if it is not more so in the wake of this event.

I don’t know if it is related to the festival itself but they have also been removing the trees which stand on the outskirts of the field. Actually, the other day as I was walking past the team of men as well as a group at the base of the tree soaring who were taking down the tree was quite a spectacular sight I captured it on film to a took a few photos as well. It seems a shame somehow as Janakpur is really a very wet city…it would seem to make a lot of sense in my mind to have trees planted not only to absorb water but also to stave off the aggressive heat in the summer.

Further strikes are affecting the region with many transport services haulted for up to two weeks. For those families we are trying to recruit who live in outlying regions this makes it next to impossible to get here. I dread to think what a rickshaw from the border with India would cost and how long it would take! I guess that Striking could be jokingly viewed as something of a national sport for the Nepali people but really it is indicative of the disarray that things are in. I’ve been creating “fix-it” list mentally for the Nepali government. Which runs along the lines of :

Electricity – the number one point of progress for Nepal as far as I can see – seems crazy that country with the highest mountains in the world can’t generate enough electricity from hydroelectric power. I have heard from an energy consultant in Kathmandu that 52 projects are ready to be built which would increase capacity of the country from 10 arbitrary units per person to over 100 arbitrary units. It’s hard to articulate how many problems this would offer solutions to. I cannot see any convincing arguments against this many. In my limited time visiting the country access to fuel of all sorts has been a major topic of discussion and has featured as the main point in several strikes. I don’t suspect this will change any time soon. In Kathmandu, cars literally queue for days to get petrol. A continuous power supply would enable manufacturing to increase, schools and hospitals to be open and to be run with improved services and on a national scale make available electric cooking devices which could potentially save women looking after their families many hours a day, which could very well be more usefully spent looking after the children, gaining an education themselves or even God forbid pursuing some leisure activities. I just don’t understand why the country with such a possibility has such problems with power. Throughout the governmental echelons how can any issue supplant this for its import and potential great capacity to improve whole of Nepal?

Sewerage, sanitation and waste systems infrastructure – investment in sanitation infrastructure would improve quality of life universally. This would probably have to be supplemented with a national re-education program in disposal of rubbish. Although by no means unique to Nepal… (vis a vis India) concepts of when and how to dispose of rubbish for individuals seem ludicrously absent from all echelons of society. Here in Janakpur rubbish is literally jettisoned into the street or swept to a safe comfortable distance…say 2 m away from your front door. Periodically someone takes initiative to sweep this street flotsam into a pile where after day or so…After a day or so of being picked over by dogs, cattle and pigs someone sets it on fire as a means of disposal. On my walk to work there are several allotments which are so thick with rubbish as to take on the appearance of a complete wasteland. Coupled with the open sewers on the side of each road the primordial stench that emanates from certain places on my journey is at times overpowering. I’m thankful that I’m not here for the boiling summer.

Transport infrastructure?

Education for women – this is absolutely fundamental…

National Health Service?

etc. etc… Tonnes to improve here… tonnes… the challenge is doing it all in a way which suits Nepal – and is led from within…

Janakpur finds itself in the 3rd poorest region of nepal – with a multidimensional poverty index equivalent to something like the lowest of the 8 ranked countries in the world.

In other news Suzanne has had a hellish couple of days, having fallen ill and suffering setbacks with her project. My phone had slipped into “Offline” so I did not get her texts of appeal over the last few days. She reported night sweats and hallucinations of people standing around her bed. Not a great shape to be in for certain.

With regards to her work Suzanne’s project focuses on indoor air pollution. This involves going to people’s houses and coordinating with families so that she can set up her equipment within close proximity of the main cooking stove. The huge variety of fuel types are used here, from wood to kerosene etc. of particular interest however is the use of dried cow dung which is burnt after being prepared straw and dried out in the open son. I saw a great number of installations of this done fuel on my trips to the villages last week including watching as we sped on past women preparing it by hand. It’s a curious thing the main proponent through preparation for the family, the woman, also spends a great deal of her time manually handling animal waste before going on to prepare food. As Suzanne says this place is something of an ideal litmus test for the hygiene hypothesis. Suzanne’s work is not being without mishap – as she works closely with families the various idiosyncrasies of environment she is working in that particular day can substantially affect the result she gets. For example today she reported back that after having set up the equipment she turned to see family goat launching himself across the room at one of her monitors, knocking i it flying. As she scrambled to pick up the pieces together then proceeded to chew on the extension cable power in her equipment, luckily disconnected from the mains at this stage otherwise I highly suspect that’s Delan and I would have had mutton curry tonight, and completely disabling experiment.

Goat by the door Janakpur, Nepal

Other issues she has had include families carefully covering up her equipment so that it doesn’t get dusty – despite the fact that she has specifically put her equipment there to measure the dust in the environment! With blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin she is an immense curiosity for the local children and has to work whilst being crowded by between 20 and 40 people daily. Sounds incredibly fun and interesting but I can imagine incredibly stressful with regards to try to get decent quality data!

Bit of rambling post this evening but something which reflects growing insight that I’m gaining to the functioning of this interesting country. It perplexes me that people who are so endearingly genuine could be on a national level in such apparent disarray. It certainly makes me feel glad that I enjoyed the basic privileges of a Western life without complaint generally.

I’m falling steadily towards unconsciousness as I write so I’ll conclude here and follow-on with some fresh stories tomorrow.

2012-01 Calibration study at 55%: Two days of organised Chaos with Janakpur’s children

Well here we are again. I’m writing to you now after having just had a celebratory beer with Suzanne (although ironically she was drinking coffee, heading in one direction was I was heading in the other). I just submitted my job preferences for the next two years. I don’t hold much ambition that my preferences will get me very far but at least I got down on paper what was probably important. The suggestion from the school that I rank all 270 of the programmes was a fair if not depressing reminder of how arbitrarily I feel the whole process represents individuals. Anyway we will see what comes of this coming weeks and months. I’m glad to be rid of it as it has been heavy on my mind this week!

The last two days have been incredibly busy. We have had 85 children visit our study centre of which large proportion had been included in the calibration study which I am here to perform. The gods must have smiled at us because both days had fantastic weather – with perfect blue skies and warm sunshine – the various worries about my professor arriving, the strikes and the festivals preventing people coming were all fears to be allayed as the first drips and then drab and torrents of people arrived on Sunday. We clocked through at maximum capacity… bear in mind that we’re not simply talking about single children… We are also talking about all their family members who accompanied them on this, I’m assuming, special occasion of visiting the research centre. It was quite a sight to see hearing from the veranda 50 families gathered on our front lawn.

We used a wrist band tag system to avoid mixing children up. 50 kids can be easily confused from one another in the chaos!

The families of the children waited very patiently all day outside in the warm sun whilst we kept the children inside for the 4 hour waiting period.

I’ve been thinking for some time about doing a serious film down here. The ideas are formulating and we are collating various plans together which will hopefully enable us to get the shooting down before I leave in three or four weeks time. We have great potential to do something quite substantial here. During the last two days I managed to organise with the local staff and Delan filming of parents and children involved in the study – with progressively better success. We held pseudo-focus groups which I filmed on the front lawn in lull in the protocol when the children were under strict confinement with Suzanne inside who was kept busy all day controlling chaperones, traffic flow and doling out biscuits and fizzy drinks with military precision. Drinks, biscuits as placation tools aside one thing for sure is that you would never get 50 English 7-9 year old children into a confined space with such impeccable behaviour. The children were incredibly well-behaved and even in terms of the protocol performed far better in their task of giving saliva samples and did even my highly educated adult study sample from my bachelors year. So far we havent rejected a single data point… There’s no substitute for doing things carefully I guess. It brings a sincerely deep sense of satisfaction that all our hard planning has come to fruition and everything is running almost without a hitch.

The challenge now lies in populating the plot for our data range with children at the extremes of our size distributions. The main trick is that we are trying to do study which will train the larger population state using a technique of high accuracy than what we are currently using for that wider group. In order to do this we need equal representation throughout the whole range of our data even though this may not really be reflected in the actual numbers withing the population we are studying. In simple terms this means that we are targeting our most underweight and most overweight (relatively speaking) children from the study when they may actually only represent a small fraction of the overall amount included in the wider group. This being said we also have the lucky flexibility of being able to roll out the tests in children who are not involved in our study but are of the same age range from the local populaton. Hopefully we will be to conclude a whole rest of the calibration study in the coming days/weeks. In any event only have three or four weeks left here so they can’t be very much room for delay.

It is been a great pleasure to have Prof. Jonathan Wells here. I was remarking to Suzanne this evening that it makes me reminisce about my year in research and my dreams of one day becoming a full-fledged researcher. These dreams have come really muddied by school and all the various other ambitions I fill out my brains with – somehow talking with him again reminds of the the amibitons i developed a couple of years ago… Certain I’d like to do a Ph.D. it would really give me a chance to study some these are areas which I am very interested in but simply do not have the time to give much thought to currently. Trying to juggle medicine with design study and maintaining/establishing my business contemporaneously with working pretty full days doesn’t leave much room to manoeuvre in terms of slacking. I look forward to starting a Ph.D. if only for the reason that is specifically designed to enable you to pursue your interests and look after questions were striking after.

One of the main reasons that it’s a real pleasure to be back in the company of Jonathan, aside from the fact that he’s one of the most chilled out people and seems to exude “continuous positive regard ” (although he is a deep cynic when it comes to established societal structures (not necessarily mutually exclusive granted!)), he is also a incredibly stimulating person to discuss things with. Although for most an expert in nutrition and body composition reasearch, Jonathan’s a prolific writer and voracious reader with deep knowledge over many areas – so any discussion will always bring up the issue of your own inadequacy of knowledge in almost any area of discussion. He has transited through remarkable number of disciplines (starting out as an anthropologist) and his knowledge is so broad base that you can throw him into any discussion and he will always have an interesting and valuable contribution to make. It’s been a particular pleasure reminiscing and sharing anecdotes of the last two years. I have a deep and profound respect for this man who has taught me so much, not least of which is scepticism for conventional wisdom and recognition of the need to voice opinions on matters which are taken for granted that really should be debated. We share a similar backgrounds despite being of different generations. I sincerely hope that if I am not able to maintain my research interests….we will at least maintain our friendship.

So the coming days and weeks are filled with further work but should leave some room to manoeuvre on the many other projects I have boiling in the background – not least of which is medicine and the looming threat of finals). I have the pleasure of two more days company with Jonathan and a new training programme in photography and film which i am to be running for staff at the office before and after work….
Let me know what you think of the stories and the photos. There’s plenty more curiosities to be unveiled here in Janakpur!

Adios,

Seb

2012-01 Saraswati: The Goddess Of Letters, Strings (And More) & New arrivals?

Following a week of strikes we have shipped upon a festival period with a holidays on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (today). I’m not sure about the celebration on Sunday but today’s celebration reveres Martrys who died during the establishment of democracy in Nepal in the recent past…. But really the main focus of this weekend is to celebrate the Goddess of education which happened on Saturday… Huge investment has been made by the citizens of Janakpur in creating multiple small shrines across the city many of which had been blaring out ridiculously large amounts of Bollywood music at maximum decibel level throughout the day and night. Only now are people beginning to recover from this holiday hangover.

I’ve got a few recordings which I will upload in time which really articulate the hideous nature of some of this noise. Coupled with the almost nightly inter-street-dog savagery – listening from my window it literally sounds as if they are tearing each other apart – this is made for a series of disturbing nights for me these past few days. The merciless regimen of hourly outbreaks has really disturbed me and I’d imagine everyone else in the city. Nonetheless I have been getting more sleep than London so I cannot complain (although it may be argued that I am working harder? – Not sure – either way despite the chaos it is 1/5 is stressful as being back in the Big Smoke). I dont have to put up with Sawmill snoring or supermax TV volume back in the UK however.

Delan and I were discussing cultural aspects of noise pollution. As far as we can determine there doesn’t seem to be the same level of concern for others when it comes to music. Suzanne chipped in as a warden in student halls she always had trouble with loud music complaints from students from the subcontinent. Culturally It is entirely acceptable to play loud music in the company of other people who have not expressed any desire to share in your experience. Herkening back – A classic example of this was in from Pachmari, India where my friend Adam Byrne and I had taken a hike to escape the chaos of the town which for two days of the year (the two days we were staying) becomes a Festival (which mean Landrover) Hub and the local population doubles in size. We reached the top of Pachmari hill and began gazing on the incredible panorama before us… and suddenly out of nowhere a young boy turned up with his phone and started playing loud music to his phone – completely spoiling the atmosphere and the magic of the view we were experiencing.

Noisy Boy - Pachmari
You can’t escape the noise – even if you try in Indai

Pachmari HIll Viewpoint
When the boy left Adam and I were able to enjoy the Epic view we’d climbed for!

START RANT Festival side I don’t see the value in such indiscriminate use of volume upper on your oversized Sound system when really the only person you are seemingly entertaining is yourself stop when it’s also 4 AM and I’m having to visit the bathroom once every 5 min because I’ve got gastroenteritis from violent and malicious local bacteria or viruses which I have only come into possession of a result of poor hygiene of everyone (effectively including myself as well as frequently there is no running water when it comes time to do it have a wash of les mains END RANT. I think it’s just a bit much sometimes to be constantly assaulted by noise. On the flip side Jonathan’s very much enthused by the music… I guess having a short duration’s fine to sample but living here…

Mob of children in Janakpur
Walking into the bedecked schools I was mobbed each time. Thankfully my companion Sophiya kept the best of them at bay.

Anyway back the the matter in hand: On the day itself (Saturday) everyone rolled out their finest garb – as it was celebration of education children were everywhere abound on the streets, dressed to the nines. Each school had something of an open day, revolving around its shrine of the Goddess Saraswati. It turns out that nearly office there are something like 10 to 15 local schools so I went with Sophiya – a new recruit here, posted from Kathmandu who explained the local customs and helped stave off the insane mobbings that would occur anytime we entered a school. Together we transited all these different schools. Was quite interesting to see how some of them are put together for example the Einstein Public School, an impressively fronted establishment which really on the backside is just one single classroom and a large space in which to accommodate children outside within a retaining wall. Apparently the classes rotate from early in the morning sessions to mid morning to late morning sessions, meaning that the school is run in two batches. We paid our respects to the Goddess and each of the schools and were offered by attendees a small gift of sweet things to take away. I got daubed with red on my forehead which mustered bemused Jonathan when he met me off of his flight from Kathmandu.

Saraswati: Goddess of Education

The positivity of the day extended into the night with many people partying onwards. Sunday was deadly quiet in comparison – with no music overnight and a sense of “bank holiday” in the morning as we were rolling out to prepare for the study day.

Suzanne recently discovered that the shrine which I have been observing being steadily built on “Barhabigha”, the vast open public ground which serves many functions including religious prayer site, back gardens of the hospital, cricket ground, volleyball pitch and local bus parking stand, is due to culminate in attendance of approximately 1,000,000 people in the city on 7 February….this seems rather insane and I must admit that I’m somewhat acceptable about this number… But even a 10% representation of this group means a hell of a lot of new arrivals in the city. I better clean off my memory cards and make sure that I spent some time down on the ground that this is indeed the case … the thing is that I would I genuinely not be surprised if it did happen . I guess I will be reporting soon on this!

1 million expected for Festival in Janakpur
There are supposed to be around 1.000.000 people coming to Janakpur to celebrate a large festival on Barhabigha

2012-01 Missing photos

I promised photos yesterday but didn’t deliver because of an arbitrary problem with the internet. further serious issues with the internet – not sure what’s going on – but here are a few of the shots from this week in any case….

A white face is such a rarity here in Janakpur – I’m constantly followed by gangs of local kids

Mists in Janakpur
Fog closing down the near sight visions – people creep suspiciously through the mists

Long distance Rickshaw - Mahotari
Rickshaw cyclists travel for miles out to the sticks – one of the only forms of transport alongside oxcart and infrequent public buses

Buffalo Janakpur
One of the most prized possesions of the Janakpur family. They’re not cheap – weighing in at around £500 – which in Local terms is an absolute fortune.

A local farmer in the villages of Mahotari – the adjacent district to Janakpur (Dhanusha district)

2012-01 Riots and Festivals: a week off for Janakpur (but not me!)

Back again after a week’s absence.

It’s been an incredibly busy week somehow… great intentions to write but decided to catch up on some sleep which has been rather lacking since I got here to Nepal.

I therefore propose that this be a brief post. Consisting mostly of photos – hopefully a picture will speak 1000 words?

We prepared the ground to run the calibration study on Sunday and Monday but there are many factors which may prevent us from doing this. As Rita, a friend who is currently working in Kanti Children’s hospital with two other UCL colleagues, mentioned in her recent post that “there be strikes” in Kathmandu. Janakpur is no exception, indeed we’ve had several days of strikes this week including a student strike. people strike all the time in Nepal – there are many issues of contention and the government is still not very stable. Between the price of gas, the price of electricity and various groups lobbying various causes ( I won’t pretend to articulate any knowledge of the intricacies of this)…. It’s a wonder how any work is done at all – indeed on a national level what is this doing to the economy I wonder? Furthermore the next three days are also festivals so effectively the whole city has shut down for the week. Delan, Suzanne and I have been pondering over dinner how people keep going financially… Everything shuts including small corner shops. It seems that there is pressure on those businesses which remain open – even riding down the street on a motorbike is apparently taboo. We’ve also had two days of incredibly heavy fog they would have been called a “Pea Soupers” in the olden days. Photographic opportunities aside this poses a major problem in that flights cannot land in this weather. My professor, Jonathan Wells, is expected tomorrow and I sincerely hope that the fog which we had today doesn’t visit us tomorrow otherwise he may be joining us on Sunday, Monday – or not at all as he flies back to the UK soon after! There are a myriad of other possible problems but Delan and I have resigned ourselves to certain truths about the situation and we shall make the best of it. The MIRA whole team is behind us for the two days including Suzanne who’s kindly agreed to help us manage the children during a four hour waiting period – playing militant dinner lady by controlling their consumption of fizzy drinks and ONLY fizzy drinks in the layover period (toxic stuff called “Miranda“). We’ve invited around 140 children down to the centre and have no idea how many of these will actually come on time or even on the right day! (Oh… and several family members may well come down as well – it’s going to be hectic to say the least).

Most of this week has been my working on the film which provides information needed to gain consent from the parents (and to standardise information delivery as we’ll be dealing with a large throughput of people). We shot the film on Saturday with through the staff’s children. I had Sonali, Sushil several others helping out on the day as well as Delan who was our “sound man”. Sonali and Sushil have been a great help, Sonali in particular has taken a great interests in the process of production of the film. In many ways is the first film which I have so thoroughly planned and shot. It has taken several days both write the script, to shoot and even more to edit. I’m really pleased with the finished product – even more so considering that the voice-over is in the local language “Maitali” – this has been somewhat hellish to sync correctly as I have next to no idea what is being said but somehow we managed it.

I’ve also been out into the villages this week, riding on the back of Rupesh’s motorbike through the dusty hazardous roads that fallout from Janakpur main. Rupesh is one of the staff at MIRA who’s trying to convert me to Paan – a betel leaf snack shoved up inside your lip and chewed out slowly over and hour (with obligatory “hocking” of the red waste onto the floor). Travelling outwards the contrast between the city and the rural regions is incredible, even considering the basic (by our standards) standard of facilities in the city main. It is a beautiful country however – at the moment yellow oilseed rape (far as I can tell) is growing in the fields and the flat hazy distances with spires of cooking fires and village temples in the distance are incredible to behold. The roads are god awful. I always felt a pang of pity for rickshaw drivers carrying their passengers out to these sticks the distances that they cover simply passed and one things for sure they will be to charge a tourist rate! Stopping in the villages I attracted a great deal of attention – naturally it’s not every day white faced man hulking a huge camera comes sailing along. I was cautious of my camera but I got a few lovely shots of the locals. I spent a great deal of time shooting from the hip on the back of a motorbike – such a great deal of varied life passed us by as we sped along. People are really very poor here but everyone seems happy – at least as far as I can see. I wonder if you transported one of these villagers to London and asked them to observe the people there – would they say the same of Londoners happiness? I would guess not.

On the subject of photos we engaged an incredibly interesting focus group on ethical photography of children in research settings, organised by Delan. Somehow managed to engineer a five valent Skype call between Nepal (3 of us), London (3 members) and Edinburgh (1 member) – I was impressed by our having manage that – but more so by the discussion of the various issues surrounding the topic in question –  Consent for photography and stability usage of these photos by the group. Experience was very interesting to hear the different perspectives and also to try and equate them to my normal “travel standards” and how I found myself operating in capacity as photographer at the Children’s Hospital in Kathmandu… The idea anyway once Delan and his colleagues have fought through all the qualitative data is to collate a set of ideal standards are taking photos in this research setting. The challenge granted that something which would be quite helpful both in raising the profile of the issues/challenges and hopefully providing some kind of guidance. I’m of the opinion that from here on in the expectation will be for more visual content in research be it photography, video or other media and as such these kinds of issues do need hashing out relatively soon.

Tracking back a bit I also had a great pleasure to visit Janakpur’s famous “Jhanaki Mandir” temple with Sonali after we had conducted the major filming on Saturday. I was able to film within the temple grounds as well as small clip of a group chancing a mesmeric song which was re-echoing round the walls. The indolent cows amused me, the sights and smells sent lights flashing around my brain and I received with bemusement the attentions of all the locals who were visiting the temple. I think my being with Sonali and actively engaging her (I was in the process of teaching her further film techniques) somewhat staved off their intrusions although a few of the bolder ones still pushed forward to introduce themselves and ask “which country?”.

Finally – I’ve been ranking my jobs for next year this week  – a form of slow torture. My quandary is because of the curious allocation system with which doctors are assigned their jobs (FPAS) I am in the bottom quartile for my foundation school – so have to rank all 270 jobs on offer for next year. It’s a total headache as there are so many different factors which come into play in deciding whether or not the job is good or not. In the end I came up with a sort of algorithm – a points system – and I’m simply going to submit without really much further thought into the matter having wasted already five hours this week. This may not seem like a lot but bear in mind that my choices may very well have nothing to say on the matter of which job I get – given my position in the rankings. Plus it really is like stabbing yourself repeatedly in the eye at times trying to differentiate between these jobs.

Anyway having said I’d keep it short – I’ve obviously been proven liar… Oh well.

I have a few more specific posts and like to write in the coming days – so tune in for curious stories about “the Hotel menu: A-Z”, “my hat” “tea in the morning” and “Power in Nepal  – living by the generator”…  etc etc. Janakpur remains a complete curiosity – although there is very little to do here apart from work there is much to observe upon and to mull in one’s mind – politics, health and life and death – the cradle of human experience. A very curious place.

Adios for now – my next post may well be after the study’s finished!

S