Eggs & Baskets

The challenge:  get our 3 children, one of whom has a full leg plaster cast and was issued with crutches less than 24 hours ago, from Kathmandu to Chitwan on public transport.

It’s a fair challenge, I thought, but we are up the task.  I bought an extra seat for Scarlett to rest her leg on, ‘borrowed’ a pillow from an overpriced hotel, and charged up all the i devices (made by St Apple, the patron saint of long journeys with kids).

It was all going so well, Scarlett was comfy and had my ipod shuffle playing Roald Dhal’s “The Witches” to her, while Evie and Jemima enjoyed sharing the normal ipod and playing the same tunes over and over again and shouting at each other to try to communicate with their headphones still on, in a rather endearing fashion.

Ferg was lost in some game on the ipad, while I just stared out of the window and thought how nice it was to have a quiet moment.

We stopped at some services, and negotiated the challenge of taking Scarlett down some slippery, wet, uneven steps to a ‘squatty potty’ style toilet, which I’m sure you’ll agree was quite an achievement.  All good so far.

We had a bite to eat, and set off again.

Refreshed from our rest stop, no one reached immediately for the i-devices.  We chatted and settled back down again.  It was Fergus who noticed first, reaching for the ipad he said, “Where is the black bag?”

I knew immediately where it was.  On the floor, under a chair, in the service station.

Containing:  1 Macbook Air (£900) with all our photos and countless other data stored on the hard drive; 1 ipad (£400); 1 ipod (£200); 1 ipod shuffle (£40); 3 kindles (£220) and worst of all, our hard copies of Scarlett’s medical file including her X ray photos needed for our follow up appointments for her broken leg.

I knocked frantically on the glass door separating the driver and his ‘right hand man’ from the passengers, and used a well placed helpful English speaking Nepali man to help convey the problem.  Well, I may have complained about Nepalese inefficiency in the past, but believe me, when I needed things to move fast, they moved fast!

The bus screeched to halt, a phone call was made and next thing Ferg was being pulled along by the Coach Man, who hurled himself in front of the first lorry coming the other way and bundled the pair of them into it!  I waited with the children on the bus, looking rather ashamed of myself and apologising to the other passengers.  The last thing you need on an 8 hour journey is some stupid person holding everyone up for an hour to go back for a bag.

It sounds as though Ferg had an interesting time hitching to the services and back Nepali style, hanging out of the sides of various vehicles and being dragged along by the only high-speed Nepali I’ve ever met.  It must have been a dark moment when the service station staff proudly produced a different black bag.

But fortunately, they had two black bags, and ours was soon returned to us, and Fergus in turn returned to his family unharmed.

All part of the adventure, but a lesson in putting eggs in baskets, or rather a lesson in putting eggs in baskets and leaving the said basket behind.

Admin, Nepali Style

I can’t tell you how long it takes to get anything done here.  Things that you take for granted at home turn into the most convoluted, complex, painful and agonising experiences when you try to do them in Nepal.

Take, for example, the task of sending a signed medical ‘fit to fly’ form to an airline for a girl with a broken leg.  In England, this would be a bit of a hassle, maybe needing to find a scanner and scan in the signed form would take a while, but then the sending of the email would be simple, right?

Not exactly, no!

First, you have to print the blank form.  This means downloading it with super-slow network connections from the airline’s website (1 hour).  Then, you have to save it to a pen drive (10 mins).  Next, find an internet café where you can print (easy – 5 mins).  Then print.  Ah, of course, the computers in the internet café are not connected to the printer.  The man who knows how to connect them is out.  Not sure when he’s back.  Try another internet café?  OK, we now have printers that connect to the PC’s, but the Windows version is so old it doesn’t recognise the files on the pen drive.  Take pen drive back to our guest house and reformat the files on our laptop.  You get the picture.  Day 1 is all about printing the blank form.

Day 2 is about scanning in the completed form.  This is relatively simple, only 2 internet cafes and 2 hours were involved.

I then have to send it to the airline.  Check airline website to find the right email address.  Ah.  The medical department doesn’t have an email address, just a fax number.  OK, can the cybercafé fax?  Yes!  Hooray!  Try to fax, but sadly the fax number doesn’t work.  So I try to call.  No answer.  Hmmmmm.  OK, I email the customer services of the airline to ask if they can provide an email address or a fax number that I can use to send the medical form.  End of day 2.

Day 3, any replies?  Joy!  A reply!  The high is quickly replaced by disappointment as I read (and I literally quote this):-

“We regret to inform you it is not possible for us to confirm the travel trough mail.  We request you kindly contact with any of your Airport Air India counter with your form copy and photo ID proof.  They do the needful in this regards.”

I assume this means I have to go the airport Air India Counter with the medical form.  Surely not?  And I can’t risk buying $2000 tickets and then just turning up at the counter, the website clearly says we need clearance to fly 14 days before we fly.  And we are a day’s journey from the nearest Air India Desk.  I exchange a few emails with this person, asking if they can check the fax number, or check if the medical office has a working phone number or an email address.  They helpfully reply quickly, but with the same message.

“This is to acknowledge your mail, we regret to inform you no email ID for the same.”

OK, try a new airline.

I try sending the completed form to a couple of other airlines, again using their customer services offices as none of the medical offices seem to have email addresses.  I have to chop the form into 4 separate documents as the file size is too big to send all these emails with the super-slow connection.  This takes most of Day 4.

Day 5, I have a couple of replies that tell me the correct email addresses to send the medical forms to.  Others have alternative versions of the forms that I need to download, fill in, scan in and then send.  Others don’t reply at all.

I feel a bit like that fish in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swim, swim, swim, swim, swimming!”

Finally, on day 6, I get a response from Jet Airways telling me they will authorize Scarlett to fly on our chosen route!  Victory!  I log on and find the tickets I’ve been checking every day.  They are sold out.  Seriously!  They are.  They have some Economy Plus seats for about £500 more.  I think, great, whatever, let’s just do it; and fill in all the online little boxes ready to buy.  I get to the checkout and have to use a credit card, they don’t take debit.  I rarely use my credit card so of course…it is declined.  Such a large transaction in rupees looks odd to the bank.

So off I go, back to the internet café where I make an international call to the bank.  I am put through to 3 different people, who all need the same data repeating (I have now shouted my credit card number including the security no’s on the back, by date of birth and mother’s maiden name, as loud as I can to a roomful of people 3 times over, all of whom are online, probably now purchasing their own flights with my card details, all so that my bank can protect me from credit card fraud).  They have blocked the transaction and can’t unblock it for another 7 mins, can I call back?  I agree as I am given a direct dial to the person I’m speaking to.

I call back.  The phone doesn’t work.  The man who owns the café can’t get it to work.  Pay up and move on to another place.

I call again.  It rings.  When someone answers, it’s a caravan sales place.  Thanks for that direct number Mr Helpful Call Centre Guy.  So it’s back to the automated menu and shouting my credit card details to another roomful of tourists.  I’m put on hold.  10 mins later a supervisor asks further security questions.  On hold again.  It’s OK, I’m only speding £1 a minuite on this, take your time.  I eventually get my card unblocked and hurry back to book the tickets.

Which are all sold out.

Even Economy plus.

I cry.

I check for the day before…sold out.  And for all the days before that…sold out or ridiculously priced.  The day after? It means overstaying our Nepali Visas?  Ah ha – there are tickets, the same route, a good price.  I don’t know if the medical clearance will be valid, but a quick google tells me the Visas can be extended by paying about $33 at the airport, so not a problem.

I book them.

It all goes through and I have etickets in my inbox.

Victory.

We are going to Thailand for Christmas!

(As long as I can get our medical clearance moved to the following day, get our Thai Visas on time and get our Nepalese Visas extended.  Should be simple, right?)

Turning Nepalese

Gathering Firewood

I have been in Nepal for a while now. I can feel my English habits and expectations slipping away and being replaced by new, more reserved, more, well, Nepalese, counterparts.

It’s little things. I find myself lowering my eyes away from Western women in vest tops as though this is shameful attire (it’s considered underwear here); I can’t hand money over without holding my elbow with the other hand; and I automatically put my hands into the prayer position to say ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’.

And I’m slowing down. I no longer expect internet access to work first time. Or second time. Or at all. Electricity is a bonus.

I look forward to my daily portion of lentils and rice, I balk at paying tourist prices in restaurants, preferring to eat lunch each day from the same street vendor for 50NPR (about 30p, although I do realise she is still charging me a tourist price, it’s 20NPR for locals)! It’s an interesting dish, a mish-mash of pulses, dried noodles and boiled potatoes flavoured with chillie, coriander, fish sauce and various other yet-to-be-identified spices; served on a sheet of newspaper with a little homemade cardboard spoon. Delicious.

Chat Woman

I’m even picking up the body language, Ferg asked me if I wanted to order anything off a menu and I responded by wobbling my head from side the side, the definitive Nepalese gesture, which I seems to mean anything from “OK” to, “Whatever”, to “I might have understood you or I might not.”

Anyway, got to go, I’m off to go and fetch some firewood in a bamboo backpack and carry some water on my head. Or maybe there’s still a bit of English left in me yet.

The Hospital

By Evie

Unloading Scarlett from the Helicopter

After an unexpected, bumpy helicopter ride we arrived in hospital and waited. What was wrong?

When we arrived, Tettie was taken to a private room in the hospital called the Emergency Department. Only Mummy and the nurses were allowed in. Next moment, a Tettie on a stretcher came past! Amazing news ­– her leg was broken!

Soon after, we were in the room, the room Tettie lay in for 8 days. The room was comfortable, had enough beds and ,most importantly of all, there was space for me and Mima to play. Of course, we didn’t like Kathmandu particularly, however we couldn’t help liking our cozy room.

Tettie got a moving bed. I was so jealous!

Scarlett in Her Hospital bed

We went to the zoo twice. We saw 2 tigers and a leopard and lots of deer and 8 bears and 4 monkeys and 5 buffaloes and lots of fish (including piranhas) and even a few guinea pigs!

Another day we went shopping for animal carvings in Thamel and Mima got a tiny gold tiger. Later, however, she  said she wanted a golden deer that she had wanted for ages (more than 2 weeks!) I found a pegasus which was too much money (2000 rupees). A really sad day for me. Daddy says I can get it if I still want it after our 3 week trip to Chitwan though.

Thamel Souvenir Stall

Spending a week in hospital was a bit much although the food was tasty and the beds were comfortable. I was sorry for Tettie because she couldn’t do these many things, just lie and wait. I guess she enjoyed night more than day! Poor young Tettie Wettie Woo Woo, falling from so high.

A Heroic Helicopter Ride

By Jemima

A helicopter came down to meet us as we waited with a girl who couldn’t walk at all!

Waiting for Helicopter Evacuation

It looked like it was snowing as bits and bobs of wood shavings flew up in the air and came down again with the force of the helicopter. Tettie was almost blown off her chair and Evie was pushed into Daddy by the force. We were all loaded into the helicopter…

I sat in the back next to Tettie and Evie. Evie sat next to me and Mummy. Tettie sat next to the other window and me. Mummy sat next to the other window and Evie. Daddy sat next to the pilot and the other window. And the pilot sat next to Daddy and the other (last) window.

Scarlett Onboard the Helicopter

The pilot was very good at steering. We set off for Pokhara, or so we thought.

As we flew we saw sky all around but mountains all below. We took many photos of the mountains. Basically, we flew over the top of nit noy (the Thai word for tiny) Nepal. Mountains plodded past us as we moved slowly along. There were lots of mountains with snow on. The snow was brilliant and beautiful and impressive! Great steps of field rose up and up and disappeared over the mountains. Little toylike houses moved past so slowly it looked like the helicopter was staying still and they were being pushed but they were so heavy the process was slow. Big, fluffy clouds pressed on either side but we never passed right next to or through one.

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It was the first helicopter ride we had ever had and it was really exciting. Me and Daddy and Evie might not have got to go on the helicopter but we did. If the helicopter had not come at all then we would have had to carry Tettie to the road where we would go to Pokhara in a car.

When we arrived in Pokhara, we landed on the roof of the hospital and realized we were in…

Kathmandu!

How a Pizza Broke My Leg

by Scarlett

I never realized what would happen when I ate that pizza…

Suspension Bridge on Annapurna Base Camp Trek

First we went down and flat. But that was only the first part of the day’s trek. Then we crossed a suspension bridge and went up. We were climbing steps forever or so it seemed. Sometimes the steps were little, sometimes the steps were big. Sometimes the steps were smooth, sometimes the steps were bumpy. Sometimes the steps were thin, sometimes the steps were fat. But always the steps went up!

When at last the steps came to a halt at the top of the hill, we had veggie curry and rice each (normally we get three and share). After lunch we climbed again the neverending steps up to our destination, Chommrong!

We were very hungry from all this walking and had three pizzas for tea instead of the usual dhal bhat. Of course, we shared and laughed together, playing pontoon, writing diaries and Mummy and Daddy reading Harry Potter to us. It was most comfortable in that little dining room with civilization all around us.

Then the pizza came and it was delicious. The rich taste stayed in your tummy for a long time after you ate it. Then we climbed yet more steps to bed feeling satisfied, unlocked the door feeling satisfied and got into bed feeling satisfied.

In the night I woke up feeling sick. I got up or tried to. Because as soon as my feet left the bed they hit the wall! I’d tried to get out of the wrong side of my bed. When I was at last out of bed, I felt my way to the wall. It was pitch black! Then I started to cry in despair because I didn’t know which way to go. Luckily, Daddy heard me cry out and showed me the way and I went to the toilet and back to bed.

Then I told him I didn’t feel well. He brought me something to be sick in. Almost immediately after he had left, I was sick! This time Mummy came and sorted me out.

When I woke up again, I was informed that we were not trekking again that day because I was ill but we were exploring the village.

On our way, I fell four or five metres! I landed on my leg it really hurt and the pain didn’t go away. Everyone was asking if I was OK. I said no.

Then Daddy carried me back up the hill to our lodge so that his arms ached.  Every time he stepped, it hurt my leg. When we reached the lodge, I lay down and Daddy ready Harry Potter which I definitely think made it better.

Carrying Scarlett to the Helicopter Landing Field

Then a helicopter came and took us to hospital. The flight was amazing! I felt as though I was floating on a very noisy cloud! The view went on all the time we were on the helicopter. Mountains skidded past and beneath us us villages skated. Forests seemed like patches of grass and I couldn’t see the difference between paths and rivers.

Himalaya Range from a Helicopter

Then we landed on the roof of the hospital and found out we where in Katmandu instead of where we thought we were going, Pokhara.

I never realized what would happen when I ate that pizza… I would end up in Kathmandu with a broken leg… But now I do!