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!