Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Colourful Journey

Bringing the travellers to Birtamod is one of my very favourite parts of the trip Bishnu Rai and I have put together.  Somewhat bizarrely, this dusty, non-descript highway town is another home for me and the ladies the travellers meet are a huge part of my life.  Anyone who knows me knows that being with them is one of the great joys of my life and something I never take for granted.

We arrive in Birtamod almost half way through our journey and promptly have a fabric feeding frenzy where travellers become shoppers and the serene Mr Jagdamba and the man with the cute dimples from Kathmandu tailors (so I’m told-ahem) become significantly wealthier.  This highly focussed behaviour is essential if we are to get our fabric purchases done in time to take them to tailors to be made up in time to take them home.

To the chorus of shutting roller doors as darkness fell, and with wallets lightened, hearts gladdened and wardrobes brightened, the trippers left the shops to have a restorative night’s sleep.  In some cases serenaded by dogs celebrating the full moon.   They needed their sleep in preparation for their polymer clay lesson at Samunnat.  Read a little more about this here.

As a result of culturally related time management issues and unexpectedly prompt rickshaws, the travellers arrived a tad before many of the ladies but it gave them a chance to discuss who had water from the hot tap that was a different temperature to the water from the cold tap.  A few as it turned out!  But the really exciting thing for some was that Hotel Heaven had advertised AND actual WiFi.  A winning combination that catapaulted Hotel Heaven way up there into seriously heavenly realms regardless of tepid water.  And some of us would nearly have killed for tepid water.

The ladies arrived (some come from many kms away and cycle for nearly an hour) and the welcoming and sharing began.  It was a wonderful time and I feel so lucky to be there to be part of this exchange.  Many of this group of travellers are artists and for the ladies to see bold experimentation, a spirit of exploration and the delight of working with a new material was so good.  In Nepal, much artistic energy is channelled into replicating designs that sell or are traditional and so feeling comfortable to go out on a limb, or to try and express something you feel with something you create is new. There was much laughter, a few quite tears (doesn’t take much to get  me going the blub) and a real sense of connection that we have experienced with each of the groups that have come to visit.

The travellers are heading to Kanyam and tea gardens and I spend today with the ladies doing some training for a project with Paulette.  Until next time, go well!  And Happy Birthday Kate!!!!

#47 and #48

I do tend to function on a slightly feast or famine basis. There was that initial flurry of posts and then it’s been slim pickings.  At least in terms of live posts so to speak!  After a reasonably sedate first week, life got very very busy, even without the festivals.  You can read about the wonderful reasons for the busyness and excitement here.  Lots of this has been a tad terrifying, taking me well and truly beyond my comfort zone.  Looking forward to reading my Daring Greatly book and getting some first hand opportunities to really go with that feeling of vulnerability.

Tomorrow we begin our next Colourful Journey tour.  Most of the travellers have gathered here at the Courtyard Hotel and are raring to go.  Some have already exercised those spending mucscles ready for the rest of the trip.  Good to see.  Tomorrow morning we leave the relative comforts and safety of Kathmandu for the very different feel of Janakpur where we visit the Mithila Art Centre there.  The journey begins.

Necklaces #47 and #48 are two more Wendy/ Samunnat collaborations.  The first uses our lovely khet ko gara beads in the Avocado shade.  (I sound like a bead saleswoman already!) The design of these beads is inspired by the terraced fields of rice that abound here. The avocado shades are more subdued and are modelled here by gorgeous Kopila.  The second is in the monsoon shades which are vibrant and electric greens, and Man Kumari is wearing this mala.

La, read the Colourful Journey post and I hope I can post en route.

#46 More Secret Stones

The Samunnat ladies make their lovely spice beads and Gopya (Nepali for secret)is one version that we find looks great in so many designs.  Here it is used in simple pebble shapes and modelled by the lovely Kopila!  It has been a fabulous time here in Birtamod.  We’ve had some really exciting developments and the ladies have worked very hard.  So have I.  Some secrets can soon be revealed!

Until then, hope you enjoy the necklace.

Pre-breakfast Breakfast- the Bhakka Story

Many mornings after my walk, I come home to chiya and bhakka.  Bhakka is a rice cake a bit like idli from southern India for those familiar with them.  They are served warm and enticingly steaming with chili, tomato sauce or honey and we have one in case the gap between the hearty serve of dal bhat from the night before and the hearty serve of dal bhat at 9 is too long.

I kept asking Kopila which shop at the little intersection at the top of their road sold the bhakka.  She always answered vaguely that it was just a small shop.  And try as I might, I could never identify a small shop amongst the many small shops housing motor mechanics, beauty parlours, tailors and kirana pasals (those small general stores that dot the countryside selling phone cards, shampoo sachets, Fair and Lovely Creme and biscuits) that may sell bhakka.

I convinced Kopila’s oldest daughter Bina to let me accompany her on her bhakka walk (at 6.00 am after she got back from coaching.  I kid you not) to see the shop.  She picked up the trusty blue thermos bowl and off we went.  And it all became clear.  The bhakka shops sprang up like mushrooms all over town in the wee small hours of the morning.  The bhakka baker would arrive with her basket of coarsely ground rice balanced on her head (I missed that bit-those hours are way too wee and small for me).

She carried her pot lined with clay, her scraps of wood, her pots of sauce and chili powder and her newspaper to wrap the buns.  Then she’d set up her fire in the kerosene tin and bring water in the pot to a rolling boil.  She would scoop a metal bowl of the ground rice and cover it with musline which she then deftly upturned over hte mnouth of the pot.  The clay had been used to create an opening just the right size.  She covered it with another metal bowl and in a few minutes the bun was steamed and ready.  Regulars gathered, waited for their bhakka and chatted.  She stayed until the rice flour was gone.  And then, so was she.  I hope the photos tell the journey from shop to plate!



Bodacious Babes

I must confess to not feeling particularly bodacious myself.  I am a tiny bit knackered (I have just checked and this is not swearing!). So much has been happening for Samunnat and it has required lots of thinking/ planning/ doing/ teaching/ experimenting/ milaune-ing for all of us.  And I find it a bit hard to switch off my thinking/ planning/ doing/ experimenting brain at the best of times.  And feeling so amazingly excited is also a bit tiring.  Very soon we will be announcing the source of all this amazed excitement on the Samunnat blog but we are looking at a partnership that has enormous potential for the ladies and we are beside ourselves!!!

Anyway, the bodacious babes referred to in the subject of this post are the magnificent dummies (but I can’t call them that any more and from hereon in will refer to them as models) and some Argentinian lovelies!

First the girls from Dulabari.  And can I just say that their formidable assets became even more impossibly formidable as they got lacquered? Rather than knackered!  We all were quite stunned with them (the assets) and really felt that they’d need a blouse in public.  We had a funny moment or two comparing our own assets with theirs and there were significant structural differences for which we were all grateful really!  But they do their modelling job nicely and we have had a ball being stylists to get our office ready for the visiting throngs.  (Well the 8 Australians coming through for the Colourful Journey).  The ladies wrote about it here and there are some better photos of the models.

The other bodacious babes are some vibrant and gorgeous ladies from Argentina.  When one of my two magnificent girls (more bodacious babes come to think of it) was travelling in Argentina, she bought me back a sensational bag.  (The photo shows me with the collected loot of a very special birthday where I was thoroughly spoilt with some really thoughtful and beautiful gifts!  I’d just got back from a Nepal trip and it was a very wonderful homecoming!)

 I adore my bag and would be a very wealthy woman if I had a dollar for every time someone commented on it.  It is just one of those things that make me smile.  And that makes other people smile.  Thanks to the patient efforts of that Spanish speaking daughter, I was recently able to contact the lovely Graciela Fuenzalida, and get another one.  Or so. To share for the collective bag benefit of mankind.  Or not.  I haven’t seen them live yet but my mum and dad showed me by Skype!  The joys of modern technology.  When it works.
Very soon, some of Graciela’s work will be available from Flourish Arts of Birchgrove because Robin, the curator of that gorgeous treasure trove, was one of the people who loved my original bag.  She jumped at the chance to get some when I did and her bags are en route to Australia as I speak!
So, that’s it for now.  Be bodacious, not knackered.

#45 Secret Stones

Just in case you are a new reader, one challenge I set myself this year was to make one necklace each week.  Part of this challenge was to complete a project rather than have components sitting in piles for ever; giving myself an incentive to overcome the fear of commitment that sometimes surfaces in actually saying this is it!

While I am travelling in Nepal I have got some pre posted(ah, the wonders of modern technology).  Here’s another necklace incorporating beads made by the lovely ladies of Samunnat.  Their recipe is gopya….secret.  And the story is one of turning disappointment into discovery, anxiety into rejoicing. All by changing your perspective.

The large stone disc is one that called (you know how that happens!) because of its quiet strength.  I kept it not quite knowing what to combine it with but knowing something would emerge.  When I had to take the other necklaces apart, it was fun to try different combinations and I liked this one.

The Day of the Dulabari Dummies

As well as the many other things we are doing here at Samunnat at the moment, we are thinking about how we display some of our work, especially with another group of travellers coming through in a few weeks.  Last year I made up some papier mache busts using a slightly demented looking plastic woman with a missing shoulder that we borrowed from a local dress shop.  She was no longer available so I asked the owner where we could perhaps buy one of our own from.  Kathmandu, he replied (way too far) or Dulabari (40 minutes up the highway).  Many kinds, short, long and even some more expensive pure plastic ones.

The Samunnat ladies were extraordinarily occupied making their gorgeous Bindu beads in Navy and White and some of the Sundari range in Spring.  I was not required for a few hours so Kopila and I headed off on the trusty red scooter to see what we could find.  When we’d asked the dress shop sahuji for directions as to where in Dulabari this shop would be, Kopila was quite happy with in the bajaar, off the main road.  Dulabari is quite a big bajaar, and there are several roads off the main road but Nepali instructions are like this.  You get to the general area and then you ask the next person and gradually you will get to the place you are looking for.  Or another one like it.

We headed off the main road into the biggest part of the bajaar and pulled up outside a dress shop which had many dummies.  The owner directed us to a yellow building where we could ask some more questions.  The boy there was first time (his word) and didn’t know about dummies but another man listening in did and he sent us along a corridor to a brightly lit dress shop that, lo and behold, also sold many dummies.  Even pure plastic dummies.

Unfortunately, the ones in the size wanted (short size) were all broken.  Not terminally broken, but pretty broken and cracked.  Given that they were to be papier mached over, a crack or two didn’t matter.  When the shopowner said NRs 250/- (approx $3) per bust, I was thrilled.  Kopila was horrified.  I whispered Let’s get ten.  And so the bargaining began.

She’s good.  Really good.  We got ten slightly cracked, headless, impure plastic girls with magnificently pointy breasts for just under $2 each.  Actually, one of them had no cracks at all.  There was NO WAY we could have afforded the pure plastic one at over NRs 2000/-.  Getting them home would have been easy if Kopila had not got the water heater as well but look, it was not too bad really.  I just had to keep remembering to hold the girls by their shoulders as we scootered along. The ladies back at the office were thrilled and took the photo to show how it was done.  Kopila and I have already done some newspaper layers on 5 of them and will cover them with lokte paper in the next few days.  I’ll post photos when we’re done.

I’m just wondering if I can get some to bring back to the Hill in December.  I need at least 25 more for my exhibition next year and these are so much quicker to do than my rather labour intensive pure papier mache babes.  The impure plastic/  papier mache combo holds a lot of appeal…

The one that got away

I recalled a couple of quotes on recent morning walks. The first is written by a favourite author, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh:

I like to walk alone of country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth.  In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality.  People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.  But I think the real miracle is to walk on earth…a miracle we don’t even recognise.

I was also reminded of a quote by GK Chesterton who said, Travellers see what they see. Tourists see what they come to see.  Let’s face it, we all like to think we are travellers but I was aware of this kind of choice this morning.

The day before yesterday (and in Nepali I could have said that in a single word –asti) on my morning walk there was a moment of profound beauty where the full moon hung low in the sky, glowing and pearl-like, positioned perfectly behind the fork of the crossed bamboo poles at the top of a Dashain swing. The light was magnificent and I was sad not to have my camera.  So today I did bring my camera but, wouldn’t you know it, the moon (while still tantalisingly full looking) did not hover anywhere near the swing, didn’t sink anywhere and and merely faded into nothingness.  (Dad, I know there is a good explanation for this! When I haven’t been woken to feel compassion for a barking dog at 4 I’ll have a think about it.  Otherwise please just tell me).

For a while I loitered around waiting and hoping the moon would do what it did, but alas…it didn’t and, rather than mourning the morning I didn’t get the good photo, I decided that this would be the morning of exploring those little tracks I haven’t been down. I do like a good circuit as a rule and usually walk on one of about three or four I know I won’t get too lost on. But today, I had already broken with tradition so was free to continue to do so. (Circuits, traditions, rituals…what are we learning here?). 

In effect I was leapfrogging the milk bike man.  Our paths have crossed on other occasions but today I was well and truly on his turf.  He cycled along stopping at each house and someone would come out and tip the morning’s fresh milk from a bucket or jug into his cans.  The milk bike man was not usually followed by a videshi powering along, occasionally stopping to take photos, and I seemed to be as fascinating for the locals as they were for me. They’d stop their sweeping, milking, tooth brushing and chiya making and come out to get a better look. It became a regular meet the neighbours. We’d Namaste and stand around discussing the meaning of life and what was happening with Tony Abbott’s popularity ratings in Australia and then get on with our respective days.

While I missed the world’s greatest photo of the moon setting over a Dashain swing, I saw other lovely and surprising things.  Including a freshly painted plaster bust of Mr. Narendra B. Abuwang complete with carefully observed details, right down to the ball point pen in his pocket.   


# 44 Amber Spices

How is that for an exotic combination?  A gently spiced wearable offering!

The amber beads in this necklace were made using the recipes from one of Tory Hughes’ magnificent  DVDs and the spice beads are made from our (our meaning us Samunnat babes) secret recipes from Nepal!  We use maric (black pepper), khursani (chili), dalcini (cinnamon) and others to create the wonderful subtle shades in the necklaces.  When I get back to Australia, we’ll put some of these on etsy.

And since she’s come up in the conversation, I can mention that Tory and I  (another exotic combination) are in the process of dreaming up a pretty exciting event  we hope to run in September 2013.  This could be a very long post if I gave vent to ALL the excitement I feel about this retreat so I will try to be brief!

We are not talking about a polymer clay retreat.  Tory is doing some polymer clay classes in Sydney and Melbourne and this is will be quite different to those (although a little polymer may be involved!)  We want to create a very special time in a very special place where those who come along find refreshment, replenishment, energising, inspiration,and be re-aquainted with their own creative magnificence (even if they think they don’t have it!)  Tory is an amazing artist and teacher who has years of experience helping both well established and only just realizing it artists learn about what enhances their creativity and how to follow through your creative nudges.  And I am an enthusiastic encourager.  A firm believer in innate creativity and its power.  And quietly beside myself with excitement about our September Sojourn.  In my usual understated way.

If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, and I think it does, watch this space!