Full moon rising

Last night, lying under my mosquito net and an energetic overhead fan, I watched as a beautiful The Danu Sherpa and Higgins familiespurnima, full moon rose outside my window.  I reflected on the fact that it is just under 40 years since my first trip to this country when I travelled as a teenager trekking with my adventurous parents and sister. In astonishing flared jeans.  I’d really just wanted to go to Norah Head again to swim!

Instead, we trekked from Pokhara because at that stage there was no road beyond it, and I fell in love with this place. I came back to Australia, read weighty Nepali anthropological tomes by Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf and determined to live here one day.  Which I did eventually and still do…albeit intermittently.

It is now the very small hours of the morning on May 4.  In a few hours I will begin my journey back to broken Kathmandu and, all things being equal, home.  The new normal. Yesterday, I farewelled the incredible ladies with whose lives mine has become so intertwined.  We cried, we laughed, weOur lovely Sherpanis planned. We discussed the marvel of having a husband (in my case!) who cooks and cleans and encourages from afar. Aphle pakaune!  We discussed hot flushes, recipes, internal organs, and looked at videos of mero natini, Zoe.  We ate sweets and we talked about courage, about doing things even when you are scared. About being open, awake and strong and we talked again about a quote by Frank L. Baum my mum sent me earlier in the week:

All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces            danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.

So, in these wee small hours, nothing profound, just deep joy to be alive.


Nepalis aren’t just sitting and waiting

I lived in Nepal for nearly four years and continue to visit for months each year. I’ve been here in eastern Nepal through the earthquakes and the initial response. This part of the country has not been devastated but people have been extremely scared and very saddened by what has happened elsewhere. We have mostly had an internet connection and have been able to follow the coverage from Australia and around the world. And I must say, it has concerned me. I almost felt physically ill when I read about Hugh Sheridan and a film crew flying over for the celebrity reunion. And I am concerned about the message people are getting. Australians could be forgiven for thinking that Nepalis are sitting hopelessly, waiting for international aid to save them under a government that is corrupt and obstructive. This is not true.

At one level Nepal was not prepared for the earthquake, but at another level, Nepalis are very well prepared. As another Australian in Nepal, Steve, wrote to me:

The Nepali people are resourceful people… They normally live with a poor electricity supply… They live with an overwhelmed mobile phone system and intermittent internet – they are used to gas shortages, bus strikes, monsoon rains, bad roads, noisy streets and hard beds. They don’t ‘tolerate’ these things, they simply live like this. Before there was any earthquake to make things bad – they already lived like this. They live like this and rarely complain, rarely get angry. The water supply dries up regularly, the drains block regularly, the monsoon stretches everyone in every direction. But this is all normal for them. Sharing a bed is not rare. Sleeping on the floor is common. Making do, when things don’t work out is normal daily living. There is nowhere in the world that I have been that is better prepared for an earthquake than Nepal.

Let me tell you what has been really happening in eastern Nepal.

Very poor people are being very generous. Where I work, women overcoming poverty and violence are donating everything they can. Their cooperative is donating thousands of rupees. Instead of getting frustrated about international donations of food and supplies getting stuck at the airport due to Customs processing, people are doing it themselves. Within days, my Nepali bhai Binod and friends had collected money, contacted locals on the ground, found out what was required, bought it and delivered it. 250 tents went to Gorkha. Food parcels and blankets to Kavre. Tomorrow, he and friends are travelling on a truck loaded with family food parcels. Not impractical things but 25kg bags of rice, sugar, salt, oil, chura (beaten rice) and biscuits. Their food parcels are what the locals want and know how to use. Not tuna fish and mayonnaise. The trucks and relief vehicles will go to the track heads, as far as they can. They are being met by locals, often part of JCI or Rotary groups, who then take them, on foot if necessary, to where they need to go. Targeted locations. People know they were sent and know they are coming. The people in unaffected areas buy the stuff and the people in affected areas tell them what they want. Then they deliver.

These stories are happening all over Nepal.

Any of us who have lived here know that Nepalis are extremely resourceful people. The scale of this disaster is huge and shattering. But the problems are not unknown here and the country has been through this before. They are not solely dependent on foreign governments and international aid organisations to bail them out. They don’t need unorganised volunteers and foreign media taking up seats on helicopters and using precious time and resources. They don’t need rescue and aid efforts that are driven by what outsiders want to supply rather than what they need. These things are delivered best by using existing networks and the considerable local knowledge of local people. I have seen how Nepalis can mobilise and work things out in a crisis – and that is what many Nepalis are doing right now.

Earthquake links

People may like to read this great article about lessons learnt after Haiti and here is one suggestion from an organisation Mal and I are consistently impressed by and trust.

We are still safe here in Birtamod. I grieve for Nepal but have a sense that while devastating, it could have been much worse.  The trip home may be…um…interesting. And when I am in Broken Hill again, forgive me if it takes a while to realise I don’t have to run from the room at the 6.45 blasts.


This is a very sad and hard post to write and I am writing it in case people are checking in here to see that I am OK and that my darling friends and family over here are safe. First of all, yes we are. We were terribly frightened here in the east and can only begin to imagine how much more terrifying it must have been closer to the epicentre. We experienced two major quakes which caused power poles to sway and we all ran out of the building where we were working. Some of the ladies here must have supersonic quake detectors and we were out of that building faster than you can imagine. At the first mere rumble, which could have been a bike going past, two or three shouted Earthquake to the rest of us and we were downstairs and out.  With the people from all the houses around us, we watched and waited. People texting and messaging to see what was happening and where the epicentre was.

It felt like being on a ship in really rough seas and seemed to go on for a long time but obviously was shorter than it felt! We returned to work after the first quake but after the second one, every one was too jumpy and nervous so we all went home to watch the tragedy unfold.  People wanted to be with their families if anything else happened.

Last night, we put off going to bed in a way.  Some watched the news in horror. Kopila and I tried to busy ourselves with things that needed to be done, orders to write up, talks to prepare, anything to put off going to bed and waiting. We kept reading the Samunnat Facebook page and all the messages of love and support. Cried. We all slept downstairs, piling into two rooms. And this morning, there was that initial sense of Was that a nightmare? and then the horrible reality that in this country I love so much, there is so much loss of life and destruction. The death toll is 1500 and rising and magnificent history crumbled and lost.

I must confess that I am glad I am not heading to Kathmandu immediately.  In both the office building and the home here, we have an open field opposite and are not surrounded by high buildings. We will work today. Government offices will be shut for three days but the thought of sitting around fearfully waiting, as one of our supporters on email aptly described it, is too awful. We will keep going and just hope that recovery can be underway soon.

Thank you everyone for caring.

My Big Fat Nepali Wedding

In the past year, I’ve been to three weddings. Two were for for my darling girls and two took place within three weeks. The contrast between these latest two, one in Beautiful girlsAustralia and one in Nepal, was huge.  My daughters’ weddings were relatively small, joyful events which were times of celebration and connection. I was often asked how I was coping with the stress of being mother of the bride and I had to answer truthfully. There was none. No stress.  These girls were their usual delightful selves throughout the whole process. I think they had taken to heart their father’s oft repeated observation that sometimes the length of a marriage is inversely proportional to theShwarm elaborateness of wedding preparations.

Also, they had managed to find delightful blokes to marry without me having to arrange it! In Nepal, the majority of marriages are still most definitely arranged. There is a degree to which a young person can vet a parent’s choice but, especially if you are a woman, too many knock backs and you are in trouble.  And if you are a woman whose engagement is broken (for whatever reason)…well, there go your prospects for marriage.  It was good that this was not the Tikkacase in Australia 31 or so years ago.

A Nepali wedding is a horse of a different colour entirely.  Some observations:

1. Three days of a wedding is verging on too much of a good thing. And I only went in the afternoon/ evenings.

2. The women really know how to dress for a wedding. It was  feast of colour and spangles. Magnificent.  And, for all shapes and sizes and ages, saris truly have to be among the most flattering garments on this earth.

3. A Nepali wedding car is a joy to see. Real flowers and led by a group of joyously dancing female relatives

4. For a significantly deaf woman with limited Nepali language skills, 400 guests in a marquee with loud music was a big noisycar challenging communication setting. Best to just dance.

5. Dancing in pre monsoonal Nepal is akin to Bikram yoga.  Except that you may be wearing a sari or velvet and jewel encrusted fabric.

6. An Australian woman of a certain age dancing enthusiastically at a Nepali wedding brings great joy to many. One small sweaty action can bring mirth and delight and result in more dancing invitations than age and temperature allowed.  (Bring on those Canberra Bollywood dancing classes!!)

7. Many of the rituals centre around welcoming the new daughter in law into the matrimonial home. She is required to serve the large extended family a meal and then has ceremonial introductions to the storerooms, the kitchen equipment (like the grinding stone) and the family mandir (temple) where her regular worship will ensure the sustained good fortune of the family.  To a considerable extent, much of her happiness depends not on her husband (who may head off to Kuwait as a labourer although not in this case) but her mother in law.

8. It was a joy and privilege to be a part of all these weddings but especially the ones at home! And clearly, I am wildly biased!

PS I haven’t got good enough connection to upload my little video to You Tube but will do soon!!


Happy New Year 2072

Tuesday was New Year’s Day and we, like most of Nepal it seemed, decided to go Dharanto Bhedetar, a ridge town north of my old home town of Dharan.  We drove but everyone else was on motorbikes. Most of them on the one bike.

We went to Hotel Arun Valley which used to be one ofSelfie stick  few hotels and lodges on the ridge but is now one of many. In November, you can get views of Kanchendzonga and Makalu (even a glimpse of Everest on a good day) but we went to Selfie 2enjoy the food and get views of several thousand motorbikes.  IT was also an excellent place for my darling hosts to take a few (hundred?) selfies with their new selfie stick.

After snacks we had lunch. Some of us thought the snacks were lunch and goodNYD food golly, you’d think we’d have had that one sorted by now but the snacks seemed so…extensive. Anyway, we ate our lunch and our snacks and then headed up the road to Namje which used to be a tiny little ridge town further up a very poor road.  Now it is a rapidly growing ridge town up a slightly better road. The attraction there was the atma basne gau.  The place where the spirit rests.  A beautiful place Laliguransof Nepal’s national flower, the laligurans (rhododendron).  It was also the place of many people attempting to walk up a path in ridiculously high shoes.

Two more highlights were coming home via Dharan whereMushrooms we lived for four years and going to my beloved veggie line.  We bought mushrooms, chillies, saag and limes.  Here was one place where not too much had changed.  The other was swinging into the Gurkha Department with several Chilliesthousand others.  I bought some tonic (unavailable in Birtamod) to go with my Blue Riband gin. As it turned out, by the time we reached home I rather needed the drink.

To you all, Happy New Year and may 2072 bring health, happiness and joy.

Getting here from there

The only predictable thing about the journey from Australia to Birtamod is that it will photo 1rarely be predictable. I had been warned that Nepal may be in the grip of a three day national strike on my arrival and indeed as we landed, the fact that I could see no cars on the roads confirmed this. Fortunately I had already planned to walk up to the domestic terminal.  Motorcycles were allowed in some places so I was greeted at Biratnagar by mero bhai haru  (my Nepali brothers) and a friend on two motorbikes.They escorted me and my bag to Dharan where we would stay over night.  Even after over 30 hours of travel, I enjoyed the ride back to the place we’d lived for nearly four years.  Suffice it to say, reachingphoto 2 somewhere to lie down was truly excellent.

Over the evening dal bhat we discussed the plan to try to reach Birtamod the next day which included the hire of an ambulance, feigned illness; real prescriptions and a high level of slightly desperate optimism.  As it turned out we didn’t have to resort to subterfuge or off road travel as the national strike was DSCN1143stopped after one day.  There was some concern regarding our driver who’d had a big night the night before but I comforted myself thatDSCN1145 he wasn’t attempting to use a mobile phone so was probably functioning similarly to drivers talking on phones.  Twice we got a bit nervy when traffic slowed; once when a tree was felled somewhat thoughtlessly and secondly when the police called our driver over and he nervously searched for his license which he had apparently used as a bond to obtain drink the night before.  Fortunately, the police didn’t want to see the license but were letting us know about our need for a police escort for a short distance as a different group decided whether they were going to implement strike behaviour.  It was a cosy trip given that there were 8 of us in a tiny vehicle but that is pretty normal!  I had a bony nine year old on my lap and the driver was totally comfortable.

And now here I am.  About to have a mustard oil hair massage, hot milk to drink, and a really long deep sleep!


A love song…

In two days I leave Broken Hill for 7 weeks.  In 6 days, my daughter gets married.  DSCN1078In 8 days I leave for a month or so doing my thing in Nepal. Last week I submitted ten pieces to Montsalvat in Eltham for their Gallery shop. (Thank you darling Caterina for getting this happening)  And just over a month after my return from Nepal we are moving.  Again.  I am sure that tied up in that imminent move is my desire to enter the most artistically ambitious thing I have ever attempted into our Outback Art Prize. It has been gestating since we moved to this isolated and amazing place and I…am compelled… to make it now. It is a good-bye love poem in polymer.  It is a desire and not a should because I feel excited, physically alive, almost tingly. It is flowing. In between the other stuff that I choose to do.

(One may have wondered why the afore-mentioned love poem needed to includeDSCN1081 many hand made, hand textured, hand painted bones and hundreds of paper thin polymer clay gum leaves.  One could ask if I really needed to do this right now* but one hasn’t asked this because one has been married to me for two weeks shy of 31 years and knows it wouldn’t help. Instead, without any fanfare or fuss, one sweeps, cooks, and picks up the neglected pieces.  One has encouraged and helped and been generally amazing. Sometimes you can get really lucky.  I know I did.)

DSCN1083I know, at other times, all this going on would be freaking me out. I am a little freaked but to my surprise, am feeling more energised than freaked. I realise that so often, the person saying Do it better; Do it faster; Be more on top of things is me.  Other people can handle it slower, less organised, well down vs perfect!  I can choose to do some things in a good enough way so I can really dedicate the time I want to other things. There is still that tiny part saying  Don’t worry. Tomorrow you will wake up and be REALLY panicked and then you’ll be sorry but for now I’m running with I’m going OK.

Here are some I hope tantalising glimpses of what is to come. Even if I don’t get accepted, it has been fun.  I am learning about creativity, trust, embracing life by the metaphorical balls and going with the flow.

*I do need to do it right now because it is a tad time consuming and the deadline is ten days after my return.

A long time coming

And I am not talking about the regularity of blogging!  Darling family members and friends have DSCN1037put up with me banging on about something for nearly 12 months now and the great day has finally arrived. I made a decision last year that I chose not to implement until today.  I celebrated it with these pieces.

Today I had my last colour. If I had done this when I decided to, my hair would be at a dreadful, horrible, disgusting stage right at the time of my gorgeous elder daughter’s wedding (next week) and the temptation to hit the bottle again would have been, I feared, too strong. So I am a brunette for the wedding but am now steeled for 2 years of skunky hideousness and potentially vibrantly emerging hair authenticity.DSCN1077  No plans for a pixie and at this stage hoping to be brave enough to go cold turkey. Euck.

Months of people thinking I have really let myself go. Maybe two years of ombre awfulness.  People thinking my husband looks really young.  I have studied the Pinterest pages of good transitions and great looking long haired silver sisters. For a while I avidly read the experiences of others with long hair on Going Gray, Looking Great. I bought Anne Kreamer’s book.  I have looked admiringly at long haired silver lovelies like Yasmina Rossi and Jodee Anello. I may have got a tiny bit obsessed.  But now it’s time to act. Or not act.

I suspect posts about going grey are really, really boring to anyone not choosing to do this so I will not talk about it again, maybe occasionally posting a photo or two of the journey, but otherwise, just letting nature take her course.  Some of my tribe think I’m mad, some think I’m brave and my already magnificently silver buddies (some well under 50) think it’s fantastic. Who knows. I approach with tenderness, curiosity and hopes that I can be very very patient.

Joy – an exercise in vulnerability

Last week, at WOMADELAIDE (a nearly annual pilgrimage) I spent three days listening to world music in Adelaide’s beautiful Botanic Park. The weather was delightful, the breeze cool, the food delicious and the music wonderful. I reconnected with old friends; I swayed with delight listening to Toumani and Sidiki Diabate, I sang along to Black Boys on Mopeds with Sinead O’Connor and I lay down for an hour and let the music of The Gloaming reduce me to joyful tears.

DSCN1065Within an hour of my return I was in a state of deep flow in a basket weaving class guided by my dear friend Ann Evers.  I learnt about the story telling of basketry; learnt about how plants and grasses from my local environment could be woven to create functional and beautiful items. I wove into my basket, farewell kattaks from Nepal and Tibet and a silk scarf over 35 years old that I bought in New Zealand.  It was hand printed, a serene and delicate mint colour and had become brittle with age but I could not bear to throw it out, so  I combined it with bells and reeds to make a very wonky but happy looking basket.

All this loveliness and I hesitated to write about it because I felt a bit guilty! Guilty DSCN1067for owning up to this seeming sustained self indulgence.  I felt like I should somehow justify it by sharing that I had a great need for something nice after a period of hardship. Perhaps I should itemise all the challenging things that have cropped up.  Perhaps I need to state that I am totally aware that the world is full of bad things and that having this joy doesn’t minimise my knowledge of that.  Why do I think this? Why is joy sometimes accompanied by a sense of…guilt?

The other thing I noticed has been so wonderfully described by Brene Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection.  She writes: Joy and gratitude can be very vulnerable and intense experiences. We are an anxious people and many of us have little tolerance for vulnerability…we think to our selves I’m not going to allow myself to feel this joy because I know it won’t last; or Acknowledging how grateful I am is an invitation for disaster.

I know as I lay there, feeling the power of the music of The Gloaming, tears of joy quietly rolling down my face, there was indeed that tiny little voice saying Yup and ain’t you going to come a cropper after all this loveliness?  And I realised that Yes, I might. I might be diagnosed with a terminal illness; the plane might drop from the sky on the way home; my hearing might finally give up its tenuous hold on usefulness and call it quits. Any number of disasters could befall.  But whether they happened in the future or not, right then and there, in that moment, I was experiencing joy.  I could miss it worrying by the future mights, or I could enjoy it.  And the memories of experiencing that joy could sustain me and give me resilience to face what comes.

So I did. Experienced joy. Grinning like an idiot. Counting my blessings – the dappled sunlight, the music, men with the voices of angels, the ears to hear it, the lovely bloke lying next to me (making it work!), gluten free cider….