Monthly Archives: October 2012

On beauty

I have finally been able to get a shot of Ratan’s Handsome Parlour just up the road from here.  Indeed, if you can have a Beauty Parlour then why not have a Handsome Parlour?  Ratan, the proprietor of the aforementioned Handsome Parlour, is often languishing outside the shop and I had to wait until he was occupied inside.  One has to be a bit discreet about one’s behaviour when one is a regular visitor to a place (especially as a woman often travelling solo) and I don’t want to give Ratan the wrong idea.  It is his parlour rather than his person that excites my interest.

The Beauty Parlours here are a source of constant delight.  The names are gems.  Old classics are Fancy Beauty Parlour, Femly (say it) Beauty Parlour, Fair Beauty Parlour, Your’s (sic) Beauty Parlour, or female names like Aishwarya or Laxmi.  A favourite in Dharan was the Face Off Beauty Parlour.  I frequented the somewhat boringly named Woman’s Care Beauty Parlour at the gate of the hospital.

I am not sure if it is still operating but a few years ago, the gay and third gender community opened the first gay Beauty Parlour in Kathmandu fabulously named (as you’d expect) the Cutey Beauty Salon.  And on my weekly bus journeys I regularly passed my all time favourite….the Trust Me Beauty Parlour.

The beauty parlours are often signposted with exuberant paintings of Bollywood actresses (Aishwarya is obviously a huge favourite) but you also find naive interpretations of Averil Lavigne (massively popular on T-shirts here), Angelina Jolie and Princess Diana (sometimes with black hair but still distinctively Di.)  The ad (pictured on the right) for Neeldavid in Siliguri has now been removed from Bhadrapur Airport’s waiting room but I never worked out why you’d be impressed by the blindfolded hairdresser.

Although there are sometime reports (usually from the wicked capital) of being able to get a wider range of services than you’d possibly expect, generally the beauty parlours are very professional and the places to go to be pampered.  It’s a burgeoning industry and in Samunnat’s next training program, we are providing the resources for four ladies to get Beauty Parlour Training so they can be employed locally.  You get facials, skin-whitening treatments, hair treatments and threading.  I am a huge fan of threading as some of you know.  A good threading is like a mini facelift really and so much cheaper.  You can get threading done in capital cities in Australia now but not, alas, in Broken Hill.  I’ll just have to make the most of it while I am here.

For a mere 35/- (approx. 40c) I get my brows and upper lip threaded and once got my whole face due to a small communication glitch.  (That’s not the sort of thing you only get half done. Or twice).  Nepalis and Indians get their arms and legs threaded too but the thought of an underarm threading fills me with dread.  Travellers on our Colourful Journey trip can get threading done by the ladies of Samunnat (Sharmila is the threading queen) and they are also happy to apply mehendi (henna) to our hands in intricate and beautiful designs.

Who’d ever have thought you’d get beauty tips from my blog?

# 43 Piro man parchha!

Which means I like it spicy and alludes to the fact that, possibly as you read this, I will be providing hours of side-splitting mirth and merriment for the good women of Samunnat with my enthusiastic butchering of the Nepali language as I attempt to communicate here.

We still all have a jolly laugh over  the You must dance ladies, dance.  A worthy sentiment but it was a sewing activity and I was trying to stress the importance of accurate measurement at the time.  Napnuparchha and nacnuparchha…not too different!

This yummy necklace, if I may say so myself ( and it is a collaboration so not totally loving myself sick) could have been called I will never ever sand and polish chili beads again.  But I might, because the contrast I hoped for, between the matte of the blackstone beads and the shine of the laboriously polished chilis, works well.  We might make a few more of these actually!  I made one of my bracelet/ extenders so it is very versatile.  La, pugyo. Bahiniharu, kaam garnuparchha.  All you others….nacnuhos.


It is a recognised fact that I am a die hard sari fan from way back and that I’ll wear one at the drop of a hat.

Ironically, on Dashimi, when sari wearing was de rigeur, I found myself without one!  Most of mine are back home at the ‘Hill (and you can imagine how many I need in the Outback!)  and the lovely chartreuse sari with the matching gold piped blouse that I was given last year sits somewhat uselessly in a small bag at Sonrisa because I won’t be getting there for another few weeks.

As Kopila and I walked down to great grandfather’s house for Dashain tikka receiving, she attempted to reassure me that my somewhat tired old kurta surwal* was perfectly fine.  She nearly had me believing her until she suddenly stopped, looked at me appraisingly and wondered aloud if one of her very biggest blouses might fit me allowing me to wear one of hers.  We were already, surprisingly, somewhat late and I was worried this would make us even later but the significance of wearing a sari at Dashain can’t  be overstated (once a solution is in sight) and we hurried back (in a leisurely Nepali kind of hurry) to see what was available.  To our collective delight-daughters and friends had gathered to witness the great sari try on-a fitting top was found immediately and I was wrapped and heading back to grandpa’s before you knew it.

On the way she told me about the dreadful reaction she got the one time she turned up in a kurta surwal!

The family patriarch’s wife (now deceased) gave birth to seven boys and seven girls.  The seven wives of the seven brothers are formidable women and most live within cooee of where I stay.  One of the many Dashain traditions is new clothes (another reason why a tired old kurta was a bit dubious) and these aunties had decided that this year, they would all have matching saris.  Omigoodnessme!  What eye candy this was.  It was a bit like having a festival with the Bollwyood version of the Supremes.  With more of them.

The gathered family were delighted to see me sari’d up and were thrilled that I was also wearing a necklace, earrings and bracelets (all part of a day’s work for me).  The only problem was that in our haste, I had forgotten to put a bindi, a red spot on my forehead (to show my married status) and the ladies were rather perplexed as to whey I wasn’t carrying any in my hand bag.  What on earth did I have in there if not spare bindi?  Fortunately, they of course did, and a fancy one with a sparkling little diamente was located and placed.  And re-attached when one aunty thought the first aunty had stuck it on crookedly.  I’d like to say I looked a little pale and peaky because I had a heavy cold (which I did) but let’s face it….I just looked a little pale and peaky!

And then the photographs began.  Can I just say that I have shown ENORMOUS restraint here by only including a few snaps of the day but give me some encouragement and there’ll be more!

*A kurta surwal is the tunic trousers set that is day wear here.  I am wearing one on the swing in an earlier post.  And here is Man Kumari wearing a more elaborate one for our celebrations the day before Dashimi.

Gopal tells a joke

It’s part of why I come here really.

To hear one of Gopal’s jokes? No, not really but you can tell from the crowd reaction in the photos that they think he does it well!  Gopal is a pretty amazing bloke.  He lives in a beautiful village that is a 20 minute motor- cycle ride away from Birtamod in a house amidst fields of wheat, corn and sugar cane with his wife, two children, parents, and others in his extended family.  Gopal is on the Samunnat board.

Just before Dashain, Gopal and others on Board all got together to plan the next training program (you can also read about this here and  here) and to celebrate Dashain with the ladies. I sat in on the meeting in my capacity as invited guest (that’s what I’m minuted as), understander of about one word in ten and occasional contributor of an idea or opinion.  Opinions were discussed, ladies consulted and decisions recorded and translated.  It is all a very friendly, good spirited, if slightly loud event.  In Nepal, there is not such a rule about only one person talking at a time and, as those of you who have been here know, what sounds like a heated argument is often just an energetic discussion.

We talked about one component of the training program where four women would learn home based industry such as owning a dairy cow, making pickles, making incense and preparing dhalmud (sweets/ snacks).  The members of the Board talked about how fearful and timid the women often were when they started the training and their concerns that the choices which looked straightforward enough to us, could be overwhelming to the participants.  This kind of awareness and sensitivity has grown over the years and it was great to see this thoughtfulness and openness to change.  They talked about ways to make options accessible and clear and not too overwhelming.  Readers who’ve been involved in things like this here will know that it is not always the case.  It was great to see.

After the formal part of the meeting, we had our Dashain celebration, and again, this was one of those this is why I love coming here moments.  Everyone sat down, on the floor or on chairs and served each other food.  Sometimes some of the male board members served one of the ladies, sometimes one of the ladies would serve a board member…there was just general serving.  Not a hierarchy of serving.  Initially the ladies would defer politely to being offered a seat if one of the men was sitting on the floor but soon all were sitting somewhere…all mixed up… and chatting.

I met most of these ladies years ago when they first came to Samunnat with such fear and little hope, often at points of utter desperation, and the change is truly amazing.  They are now confident, opinionated, ready to laugh and so proud of themselves.  People come to the office and are amazed at their work but also amazed that while they work their is such laughter, singing and sharing.  We talk about ourselves, our families, the people who have passed through our doors, the people who have visited us from overseas and who still send us so much love and support.  We talk about what gets us through each day, what helps us to cope when things are hard, what things we can put in the next training, what has helped in the past, what didn’t.

It is hard to put into words what the feeling is (but don’t I give it a red hot go?!) but it is very special.  I feel very alive, very engaged.  Every now and then I have an attack of the shoulds…I should be more skilled or qualified; or I should be doing other things .  Or I think that I should be able to do other things as well as this (like making a bit more of an income from my art without naming any should in particular) Times here like this give me clarity and help me to focus on what is authentic for me now.  Sitting with these people helps me to quieten the voices in my head and just be present.

And swinging with them is too much fun.

Handbags, Hens and a worrying week for goats

As it says in this informative site  Oh yeah baby, Dashain is BIG!  It is a huge festival in Nepal celebrated for days with lovely things like the erection of giant bamboo swings and sharing of gifts; and less lovely things like the massacre of thousands of goats.  Hens, sheep and buffalo also quake in their boots as well but it’s the goats who really need to worry.  Many Nepalis are now questioning this practice and certainly in Kathmandu each year there is annual discussion in the papers about whether the mass slaughters at city temples should continue. But it does.

For many, Dashain is the celebration of the goddess Durga’s slaying of evil forces.  Unfortunately she missed the evil forces behind over-amplified loudspeakers and to the untrained eye, Dashain may appear to be the celebration of the loudspeaker.  At little crossroads in even the tiniest villages, brilliantly coloured tents decorated with flashing lights and bejewelled icons house two enormous speakers each set to 11.  On the nearest pole, trumpet-like loudspeakers send the music across the fields.  But given the volume it is played at, the intent is obviously to send it across the universe.  I kid you not, it is at the level of pain.

(Durga also missed out of slaying the demons of lousy internet and phone connection as it turns out but it’s a good chance to practise patience.  Some may call these bourgeois sufferings…but practise with the small so you can be patient in the big. That’s what I tell myself!)

On my walk (I was going to put this morning but it is now inaccurate and temporal concepts can be misleading over here), I passed several of these village crossroads and I was prompted to think of one of my mindfulness tasks which was to notice what I didn’t notice (or words to that effect).  I did not notice silence.  And even when I moved away from one cross road into that glorious nanosecond where the sounds from one loudspeaker faded and the sound of the next had not quite become perceptible, I noticed ringing in my ears.  Near our house, the chanting starts at 3.30 – 4.00 am.  I am learning to detect the subtle nuances of change in the music and may well pick up an entire religious musical vocabulary by the time Dashain is over.

At Samunnat, we are working through some of the decreed holidays to make the most of time together.  But we will celebrate and are planning what seems to be the Nepali equivalent of a progressive dinner.  I suspect there may be bit of goat served.  The ladies’ excitement has been palpable.  From my arrival at the airport at Bhadrapur, you could sense the buzz.  For Rita, one of the welcoming committee, it was the first time she had seen a plane and her smile was radiant.  Her smile IS radiant but was particularly radiant having seen this wonder.  And the radiant excited smiles continued when we returned to the office to look at all they’d done in the months since I’d last been there.  So much joy, enthusiasm and generosity.  I confess to wild bias but I do think that comes through in their work.  It certainly does in the way they talk about their art.

In a one woman campaign to inform the wider world about the seemingly endless varieties of dal bhat prepared here, I will post photos of breakfast every now and then.  This is the morning meal, eaten at approximately 9, just before I walk to the office where we start work near ten.  Kopila follows on her scooter later.  It is misleading to think Nepalis eat the same thing every day. While most eat dal bhat every day, there is variety on the theme.  Like us with salads, or pasta.  The dal (the lentil soup) can be red, brown, black or green lentils; or chickpeas, or red beans.  The vegetable accompaniments are fantastic-eggplant, saag (that spicy distinctively Nepali spinach type veggie) potato, niguro (no idea what the western equivalent is) jackfruit, mushrooms, pumpkin shoots, all simply wonderful. Gundruk (fermented saag) is occasionally wonderful.   And then there is the achar (pickle) which you eat to add more spiciness should you choose.  This is so much better than the bland bottles of chutney sometimes sold at home (and there are good ones too!). In Nepal, achar is usually fresh and made just for the current meal.  Yup, so it is a chore, getting through all this magnificent food.  And tough that I don’t get to cook, but someone’s got to do it.

# 42

# 42…meaning of life wasn’t it?  According to some Hitchhiker.

While I am back in the old country, for the next couple of weeks at least, I’ll be featuring some necklaces that use some of the Samunnat ladies’ fabulous beads.  We are thinking about different markets for the beads and I have been sending some samples hither and yon.  Which left me with necklaces in pieces.  This made me sad so I reframed the experience and re-created the ladies’ gorgeous beads (not enough for the necklaces they were intended for) into something new.  Appropriate to have these collaborations while I am back here I think!

This necklace uses their wonderful black and white beads and some dyed howlite discs I got from Bead Them Up.  Can’t go past red, black and white really can you?

The journey so far…

Hearty Namastes from Kathmandu!

I have done the Samunnat silver shopping and paid off some debts (accompanied by the delightful Becky from California!).   I found some mint pote (seed) beads at a not too exorbitant rate in the wonderful bead bajaar at Indra Chowk and successfully negotiated the streets of Thamel and their proliferation of purveyors of various forms of pleasure.  The choice was diverse – spiritual, recreational and chemical-and the purveyors persistent.  But good natured.

My Nepali is rattling around in my head a bit more accessibly and I was able have a basic conversation in the plane with a gorgeous woman and her sprightly 87 year old mother who were returning to their village after three months in Singapore.  Well, I am pretty sure that is what they were doing!  We were the same age and she had an unmarried son the same age as my daughters.  Or something like that!

My challenge for this afternoon will be convincing the nice young man at the domestic terminal that while the scales may read a tad over the permitted 20kgs, that really the bag is a feather weight.  The presence of the pasta machine, the corn bread mixes, the tins of tuna, the polymer clay, hundreds of jewellery findings donated by lovely Barbara and polymer moulds etc may be giving him a misleading impression of weight and really we can swing on through with nary a worry.  What are my chances?

Oh, I will be SO glad to finally reach Birtamod where the Dashain festival will be just starting to pick up.  More from there soon!

# 40 An oceanic reflection

The wily reader will know that all these necklaces weren’t made in the past few days as the pace of posting may suggest.  As is my pattern sometimes, a flurry of creativity doesn’t always coincide with regular posting! All the necklaces of the past few posts were made a couple of weeks ago.

And some of the components of this necklace have been in my possession for A LONG TIME.  The focal bead, a mermaid bead, was made many, many years ago from one of those incredibly complex canes that I wish I’d made so much more of.  I sold a number of pendants using it and had kept a few remaining beads for something!  A very special necklace that was going to say EVERYTHING I wanted to say about the ocean.

It would be all about annual holidays at Norah Head; music from the loudspeakers at Soldiers’ Point Beach; wondering if the surfing boy with the sun bleached hair was into shy, hairy girls (as if!!); being dumped and dumped again by salt filled waves of turquoise, but getting back out there; of finally body surfing back triumphantly onto the beach with sand in your pants and shells in your hair and screaming with excitement; of lying, basted and burning in the sun for hours (did we really do that?) at Cronulla beach and feeling really ugly next to your skinny tanned girlfriend; of frangipani, seaweed and weightlessness in cool, magical water.  Tough call for one necklace.

So…the components were collected for ages, some pre-dating the Nepal move!  Like a really lazy bower bird.  Then there was a bit of action and serious possibilities were stored on a cracked beading tray waiting for the sign.  And then, one day as I had my quiet little sit in the morning, watching my monkey mind, my monkey mind popped up with this one.  So, so, so much fun to make.  Having hoarded for it for so long means there’s real history there.  A Tibetan farewell scarf has been plaited with metallic ribbon bought on a coastal holiday in Kiama; recently made ammonites nestle with azure and emerald coloured resin triangles from somewhere a long time ago!  Faux turquoise, real turquoise, Nepali turquoise seed beads…all there in #40.

I can look at some of those beads and think of where I got them, when, what I was doing, what my life looked like then.  And reflect on the fact that at no point in time, while making or buying those beads, would I have ever thought I’d be contentedly spending some of my life in Broken Hill.  A long way from the ocean.

A girl can have a few sacred places.

# 41 More Shards

So it is pretty similar to another one but I am trying to pack!  And I do love these necklaces.  And I am the boss of the blog!

Here are more of Margie’s shards combined with mint/ turquoise howlite.  This version sits very comfortably and has a nice weightiness (but not too heavy) about it.  I’m thinking I might even take it with me to show the ladies!  It’s a wee bit mad here.  Bits and pieces EVERYWHERE in the process of enlightment.  Bag enlightenment that is.  I have been reassured by my dear friend Cath (in response to a bit of a moan) that:

You always get everything you need together by the time you go-it’s a bit frantic and busy, but you always get it together. Your Nepali comes back to you when you are there and USING it everyday.

She then sagely went on to say:
Your presence and heart is what the Ladies want- you take those two things with you everywhere I assume?!

And that got things into perspective.  And my presence and heart don’t have to be squeezed into a bag with pasta machines, presents and polymer.

I will try to post from Birtamod and will love getting messages but you know how things are internet wise over there.  Best to adhere to MJM’s advice and hope for everything but expect nothing…as Lano and Woodley would say Lower your expectations.

# 39 Well and truly Welkered

Naturally, as part of the un-addling process I got to wondering how the Wyman Lane colours I mentioned in an  earlier post – that wonderful combination of native hops and Salvation Jane – would look as a Welker cane.  I thought the strong verticals created by the layering of the extrusion suggested the way the blossoms grow.  I mixed colours to approximate our wonderful big  sky, the deep rich reds of the hops, the mauves of the Salvation Jane (or Patterson’s Curse as they call it in some places) and the wonderful silvery green of our ubiquitous saltbush.

Then I extruded many metres of cane and let Bettina’s soothing magic happen.

Why stop at a pendant and earrings?