George Best’s eyes

A Norwegian once taught me a very simple technique for taking photographs using eye and brain. We were awaiting the sunrise at Masada, the ruined cliff-top fortress situated high above the dead sea. The sun, though some 93 million miles away, looked as if it was just about finished toasting Jordan’s capital Amman just over the horizon and would be arriving any minute.

The technique was very simple. Position your head correctly so that your eyes were pointed at the most pleasing view and then close them for a minute or longer. Then briefly open your eyes, soak up the light, and close them again for a while. To the mind of the Norwegian artist, and the person who taught him the technique, this was a sure way for the cameraless to burn the image onto the photographic plate of their memory for ever. I do remember that view from Masada fairly well though this mental ‘photograph’ was taken over 13 years ago. Though it could also be that the landscape was surreal: the warm morning light on this raw, unforgiving landscape; the salt flats below like a frozen desert lake; the expectant waiting at the site of a legendary mass suicide. And it could also be due in part the faulty wiring in this super-charged region where even the rocks we sat on seemed to be connected to the religious mains supply.

Another recipe for burning an image permanently on to your retinas, is to associate it with some prickly negative emotions. A tiny bit of embarrassment tinged with fear is enough.

I met George Best, whose face will live in my head for ever, at Geneva International Airport. I was volunteering at a winter camp for children who’d had organ transplants. Best had a legendary football career behind him that had slowly morphed into a legendary drinking career, which had recently culminated in a liver transplant. The camp organiser invited him and his young, attractive wife, Alex, to the event as they would of course bring attention to the issue of transplantation, that it makes otherwise lost lives livable, and the fact that more donors are always needed.

I drove to the airport in a rented Mercedes limousine and waited a while for them to appear through the arrivals gate. There was no need for a sign, there could be no mistaking the bearded form of this famous and aged-before-time man with an attractive 27 year-old by his side.

I took them to the car. George elected to sit in the back instructing Alex to sit in the passenger seat. We’re ready to go. It’s my first time driving an automatic and I realise I don’t know how to get the damn thing in reverse to get out of the parking space.

Alex assists, finding the hidden button that allows the stick to shift into the R position. I put my hand on her shear-stockinged knee in a reflexive friendly gesture. My eyes feel drawn to the rear-view mirror, and there I see a pair of stunning blue, alpha male eyes staring straight back at me framed by the mirror’s surround. ‘Please take your hand off my wife’s knee,’ they politely but firmly seem to demand. And in the single second it takes to remove my hand, George Best’s eyes join the image of the sunrise over the dead see at Masada in my indelible mental photo album.

Magar woman from Pyuthan, Nepal


Magar woman from Pyuthan, originally uploaded by rpb1001.

I visited Pyuthan recently. Where is that? See here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyuthan_District. Five hours drive north of Butwal on dusty roads brings you to a very beautiful valley. It is spring now so the wide valley floors are completely green and visually very appealing.

This woman is a Magar. I liked her nose-ring.

View On Black

4TH ANNAPURNA ULTRA TRAIL RACE – 27 MARCH 2010

I am posting this on this blog as this race is upcoming and has no website as of today. Please feel free to forward, and post any questions you have below. For more information about previous races, see here: http://www.annapurna100.com/ – next year promises to have again a 100km race, and on trail as opposed to road as for previous years. Good luck all participants!

A great challenge to all Runners in Nepal: 4TH ANNAPURNA ULTRA TRAIL RACE 27 MARCH 2010

Routes: 35KM and 71KM

Starting – Barahi Hotel
Run along lakeside on road for about 2 km, then uphill on trail to Sarangkot
Sarangkot Checkpoint 1 –
Nau Dada – Check Point 2
From Nau Dada to Kande Old Mule track will be used then road until Lumle
Lumle – Check Point 3
Chandrakot – Guide Point Only
Birenthati – Check Point 4 and Finishing Point (35km and 71km)
Sudme – Check Point 5 and 19
Tikhedhunga – Check Point 6 and 18
Ulleri Mid – Check Point 7 and 17
Ulleri Top – Check Point 8 and 16
Ban Thati – Check Point 9 and 15
Nange Thait – Check Point 10 and 14
Ghorepani – Check Point 11 And 13
Poon Hill – Check Point 12
Downhill and Finishing Point at Birethati.
90-95% of the route is trail

RACE PROGRAMME

24/25 March – All Foreign Participants Report Summit Hotel (Main sponsor)
Participants go Kathmandu-Pokhara by domestic flight or bus according to their personal preference and budget
26 March – 3pm Registration and 4pm – Final Race Briefing at Barahi Hotel Pokhara
27 March – 0630 Race Start
28 March – 1030 Prizes Distribution/Photos and 1130 Lunch Party 1230 – Programme Ends
Participants remain in PKR or return to Kathmandu by domestic flight or micro bus according to their personal preference and budget

ENTRY FEE

Entry Fee (GBP 100 for the 71km and GBP 50 for the 35km) to be paid to Chief Organizer (Ramesh Battachan) on 26 March at Registration Programme 3pm.
This includes:
a.   Race Participation
b.   Official T Shirt
c.   Certificate of Participation
d.   Medal of Participation
e.   Souvenir for Foreign Runners
f.    Cash Prizes 1st-5th position (71km only)
g.   Trophies for 1st-5th position  (71km only)
Entry Fees for Nepalese runners is FREE.  Entry Fees raised from foreign runners are used to sponsor the fooding and lodging of non-Pokhara based Nepalese runners.

(Trekking) Map of Nepal: It’s kind of interactive and good quality

This is the best map of Nepal on the entire Internet. Well Google maps is there but currently there is very little information about place names or trails on that. This maps gives an excellent overview of the mountain geography of the country. The map has been made by Himalaya Map House to show the Great Himalaya Trail route as proposed by Robin Boustead. See http://www.thegreathimalayatrail.org/ for more about the long distance path, or long distance trail which extends across the Nepal Himalaya.
Anyway, enjoy the map. Click below and give a few seconds for it to load.  

Nepali coffee and how to prepare it

I’ve just imported some espresso coffee making things from China. I still don’t really know what to call them. I say “Coffee pot” but they also go by macchinetta, caffettiera or moka pot. I heard that every home in Italy has one of these in its kitchen, though some of these will now be packed away now that electric espresso machines have become so affordable. Still, such a coffee pot is probably the cheapest, simplest way to make good coffee at home. If more people can make good coffee at home, won’t the home market grow just a little bit more benefiting farmers in rural Nepal? So this is the attempt to add a little caffeine boost to the wider public in Kathmandu and beyond.

http://coffeepotnepal.com/

This mission started in Langtang after 10 days of Nescafé in a country with some pretty good coffee being produced. In these trekking areas all lodges have to have fixed menus and fixed prices set by the local tourism committee. While it stifles culinary-creativity somewhat, it stops price wars and thus tries to focus the lodge owners minds on keeping the lodge looking tidy and its bedrooms clean.

Still, with competition rampant, it was hard for lodges or tea-shops to differentiate themselves from the next one along the path, or rather, the one big fancy one that all the guides assumed their clients would want to go to. Perhaps a bit of real, freshly prepared coffee would be enough to attract people to a smaller, less conspicuous (and less successful) lodge?

This has not been proven yet as it took around 8 months from placing the order to getting them to Kathmandu. In the coming months, some good Nepali coffee should make its way up to Langtang. Let’s see how the tourists like it.

Ok, I’ll bite – Make Money Blogging Free eBook review

A week or two ago, I visited Gulmarg in Kashmir to snowboard. A few days before arriving, there was an unusually big storm which left somewhere between one and two meters of snow lying around. And naturally some of it wouldn’t stay put and, in one particular case, a huge and record-book making avalanche hit an army camp sadly killing 18 servicemen.

While everybody’s concern was with the victims and those being rescued, at the same time, people were desperately waiting for the gondola (the longest in the world no less) to open so that they could head up onto those dangerously avalanche prone slopes. This is how people are of course.

Gulmarg, like any ski-resort, has a snow patrol that monitor the safety of the slopes. It is headed by Brian, from New Zealand. On several occasions he came out to address the waiting crowds before the gondola station. Dressed in tighter-that-usual, all-black ski gear, with neatly cropped ginger facial hair and aviator specs, he cut a dashing figure and thus commanded great authority. As a consequence, no-one seemed to mind too much when he gave the bad news, that, for the time being, the slopes would remain closed.

To move on to the point of this blog entry, he ran a blog on snow safety (which has a fantastic header image) which you can check here: http://www.gulmargsnowsafety.com/. It looked like a nice simple site and I thought the template might be worth using again some time. At the footer, the origin of the template used is always shown. In this case: http://www.dailyblogtips.com/wordpress-themes/. To get the themes you have to sign up to the newsletter which seemed like a worthwhile exchange.

As part of this exchange, I got a free copy of “Make Money Blogging Free eBook” which I read. I blog, so could I ever make money from it? If you own or manage a website then I recommend that you get a copy of it here:


http://www.dailyblogtips.com/make-money-blogging/

I don’t think I will ever make money blogging, I’d still like more people to read what I write however. For that to happen, I need to do a few things differently. One is to write more often, and be useful, unique while I’m at it. Importantly I need people to link to this site, and I need to link to those who link to me. These are some of the simpler things I learned from the eBook, and this is why I am writing this post. My quote: “It’s changed the way I blog”

Transparency and technology and Nepal

I have little idea what politicians do here in Nepal. I read mainly negative things about them, perhaps due to the fact that the press report mainly negative things: a slap of a civil servant here, an attack on a doctor there, a trip to a hospital in Singapore for treatment at the tax payer’s expense; a bit (or a lot) of nepotism and obviously some corruption (because its a perk of the job).

But then if the subject of politicians is raised in conversation, reactions range from frustration to rage. Their reputation among the public (that I speak to) is poor. There is a little praise reserved for a couple of young hopes: Gagan Thapa is one who is often mentioned.

Nawaraj Silwal, Siddhartha Rana, Ashmi Rana, Ashutosh Tiwari, Santosh Shah

I attended a conference around a month ago. It was hastily organised apparently, the audience was stuffed with students from one of the speaker’s hospitality college. The questions from the youth audience were limited and required to be ‘brief and to the point’ while the speakers were allowed to waffle on, off the point.

With one bright exception (though I missed the first speaker). One of the speakers there was Santosh Shah. He is well known in Nepal for his Today’s Youth Asia initiative which comprises of a TV show, magazine run by youth and an education program which has trained hundreds of teenagers in personal development. The theme of his talk was institutions. His argument was that a) institutions are important, obviously, but b) that no individual should be, or think themselves bigger than an institution.

And this is the case with many Nepali politicians, some seem to believe themselves to be bigger than the institution that they work for.

As someone with a background in web development, one organisation I admire is MySociety. One of their collection of websites, it called ‘They work for you‘.

Essentially it aggregates information about MPs in the UK using some clever technology which ‘scrapes’ published documents, such as Hansard, and collates information in an accessible way.

I have seen the fruits of this on several occasions where a journalist has asked a question of an MP who’s answer is flatly contradicted by the evidence available on the site. It’s powerful.

Could something like this work and benefit the public and journalists in Nepal? Possibly, but it would be quite different. The main reason would be that information could not be collated automatically.

But perhaps something could be done as a collaboration between journalists. If journalists reporting on politics and events could post information on a site and categorise it simply, perhaps a public picture can be built up of that politician. Logging where they go, their public comments and public promises, the slaps, the assaults and the gaffs should be easy. Assimilating information on their performance, how they vote, how often they turn up to work, their expenses and outside business interests would be a little more difficult. Perhaps the website would encourage whistle-blowers to bring new information to the table. Perhaps some kind of scoring system could rank their performance and distinguish the wheat from the chaff. Possibly it would be difficult to keep the postings impartial, but not impossible, and who would manage that?

Any thoughts on this anyone?

Dil Bahadur Kidney Transplantee – an update

One of my hobbies is trying to get people to laugh on photos. Its pretty easy in Nepal I think. While having your photo taken is becoming more common, as there are many snapping mobile phones about, having photos printed is relatively expensive and, if not a luxury, something reserved for serious applications to officialdom.

If you can imagine pictures of your great, great grandparents when the world was still sepia coloured, or your youthful great grandparents when the world had turned black white, and then if you can picture the serious scowls they wore on their faces, add colour some colour and you have an idea of how portrait photography is most of the time Nepal.

Anyway, during the few seconds of overbearing stress while waiting for the photographer to click the button, its is really easy to make people explode into laughter.

There you go. Laughter therapy is free. The straight face behind the mask is Dil Bahadur and this tells something of our relationship. For him, because of the donations that have been collected, I am his (small g) god – a term I hate. But given the context of a culture with millions of Gods, I can see where he’s coming from: out of the dust and smog comes someone who agrees to help you (by asking his friends and family to part with some cash). But this luck has just been the cherry on the cake. Dil has done more than his best to get to this point: a great deal of fund-raising in his home town, representation in the press (Journo seeks support) and support from his colleagues, his family came to Kathmandu to help him through dialysis (and his wife donated a kidney), and recently becoming one of the very lucky few in Nepal to reach the operating table in Bir Hospital (which incidentally celebrated one year of successful transplantation on the 12th December 2009).

Back to the photo. Among the family there is a palpable sense of relief, but with Dil, constantly wearing a mask to minimise the risk of infection with his permanently weakened immune system, he knows this is a long term thing. He faces up to the cost of his treatment every time he goes to the pharmacy and parts with cold hard cash. So far, generous donations brought in around 1,300 Euro. This has paid for one of the (two recommended) doses of chronically expensive Zena-pax which increases organ acceptance by up to 40%, plus the initially high doses of immunosuppressants. So far so very good. Still another 600 Euro would required to get to a maintenance state, where the daily dose of drugs becomes much cheaper and (more or less) manageable.

After that the challenge changes: to earn enough money to feed the family and pay the pharmacist. Its possible. A group of patients are looking at a programme where they set up their own specialist pharmacy to cut out the middleman and save around 15% of the cost. A group of people connected with UNDP are planning a training course on how to “Start and Improve Your Business” so that families can improve their income to cover their increase expenditure. Its early days, but there must be some way found to make this self-sustainable otherwise transplantation remains only for the rich.

So, nearly there, nearly out of the woods. Thanks very much indeed for your support to get to this point.


Donations already received can be seen here: 
http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=tdOFgjwTUeKCSow9L40a0qQ&single=true&gid=2&output=html

If you wish to contribute, please do so using this button below. It will take you to a secure Paypal site where you can use a credit card to make a donation. The account used is my own, it is currently empty and I will publish (anonymously, dates and amounts only) at a later date. Alternatively, Account name: R. P. Bull Bank name / Address: ABN AMRO / Leidseplein 25, Amsterdam; Account No: 519969626; IBAN: NL44ABNA0519969626; BIC / SWIFT Code: ABNANL2A. Thanks for your support!

If in any doubt the screen you should see on clicking the button above looks like this: Paypal screen

And now the doctors are going on strike…

“My life is under threat now,” says Dr Nil Mani Upadhyaya, registrar of the Nepal Medical Council (NMC).
On December 15th, two men were waiting for him at his gate on returning from work and attacked him with a khukuri knife. Dr Upadhyaya is lucky to have suffered only minor cuts. The men then fled on motorbikes and could not be followed.

Why was he attacked? “That is the main question for me,” he explains, “I have no single enemy after 25 years of practicing medicine. There has been no demand for money. There has not even been a bad conversation on the telephone.”

“Part of our role at NMC is licensing doctors. There are some people who have trained outside Nepal, in Russia, or India who have failed the licensing exam to practice in Nepal. Some have failed so many times, up to 14, 15 times. Our guess is that it might have come from that group – but we really don’t know, we’re just speculating.”

The attack was a trigger for the NMC’s sister organisation, the Nepal Medical Association (NMA), to threaten a one day bandh on 28th December unless their demands were met. The NMA represent the interests of medical professionals in Nepal. The bandh will result in a voluntary stopping of work in all departments except emergency.

Dr Kedar K.C., president of the NMA explained that the primary demand was for measures to increase safety of doctors in the workplace. Apparently there have been up to 40 attacks on doctors in the last 2 years across Nepal. Bundled in with this are a call for increased health budget, increase in the number of doctors, better equipment, abolishing 5% tax on salaries (which is anyway passed on to the consumer) all the way to setting up Bir Hospital as a centre of excellence and the foundation of a new medical university.

This is a worthy list but already the NMA’s strategy has fallen apart before it has started. Firstly it has diluted the issue of violence against doctors with many other complicated issues, including some self-serving ones (tax reductions, increase in private hours allowance). It could be perceived as using the frightening attack on a senior doctor to force through an increase in their benefits.

Secondly it is using the thuggish tactic of the bandh. While this could be justified in extreme cases, and after all other options have been explored, here the NMA is offering the public punishment as a kneejerk reaction to an event of 13 days earlier that additionally didn’t happen in a hospital. In calling a bandh, while not blocking roads, it puts itself in the same camp as all of the other flag-waving, violent, tyre-burning, unwilling-to-negotiate rock-heads.

What does the head of the NMC think about the bandh? “From a personal point of view, and that of registrar, I would not support it, but then I am a victim too. From a medical ethics point of view, I should not support it. It is a very crucial question for me.”

If Dr Upadhyaya has his reservations, it would seem unlikely that the long-suffering public are going to be offering their unswerving support. And there is the third point – never call a strike of a public service unless you have built up firm public support for your case beforehand.

How does Dr Upadhyaya he see the best way to improve the protection for medical staff in Nepal? “It is very difficult question. If the whole country is going in one direction, how can you protect [anything]. We are in the same direction as Afghanistan; there is no law and order here.”

“The home minister said about a year ago ‘I cannot safeguard my own life, how can I safeguard the lives of others?’.”

So then what good is this bandh going to do? Let’s wait and see. Perhaps the government will shrug their shoulders and call their bluff.

The NMA has missed a great opportunity for developing public relations. It could have detailed the terrible cases of violence against doctors, the dedication that medical staff show, the long hours, awful equipment, weak management and the fact that hospital budgets are lower than WHO minimum recommended levels. They could have played on the fact that ministers often use the public purse to get treatment overseas. Or wheeled out some happy, satisfied patients to rally support for doctors. It could have managed the expectations of the public, that doctors always do their best for patients, but that they cannot work miracles and sadly some patients will die.

It could have opened a conversation with the public about why doctors (and society at large) are suffering violence and what should be done. And then, importantly, show that they’re actually listening and thank them for engaging.

Instead, tomorrow, doctors will further loose favour with the public and strengthen the choking culture of the bandh as the only way to fix problems. In many ways, they will have just made the problem worse.

Dhaulagiri & top trumps

IMG_5145 - dhaulagiri from larjung

A photo I once took of Dhaulagiri is now on a German set of top trumps called “Mountains of the World”. Mountains get rated on the following: Höhe / Erstbesteigung / Schartenhöhe / Dominanz / Besteigungen / Todesrate = Height / first ascent/height of col / dominance (distance from other comparable mountains I think) / number of ascents / death rate. Something like this anyway.

Finally mountaineers’ pub debates over the difficulty of various mountains can now be settled in a civilised card game.

http://www.quertett.de/index-Dateien/page0007.htm