Saturday, March 31, 2018

Brain Drain

I'm up early. Too late for Nepali time. Maybe it's Dubai time. Speaking of that place ... my airline out of Kathmandu was called "Fly Dubai," and it carried a crazy mixture of tired trekkers and migrant workers headed back to the Middle East.

Ads in the Kathmandu Airport featured the money transfer service "Himal Remit," with an older man on a tractor waving his hand in glee. The check has arrived! The check from my son or daughter who can no longer live here because there are no jobs.

One issue I heard from all quarters in Nepal (from bank execs to taxi drivers) was the brain drain. It's difficult to find a family that has not been affected. Two interviews in a row ended with stories of children in college in Iowa or Massachusetts. Will they return?

As the world shrinks and problems grow, populations are on the move. One-quarter of Nepalis live outside Nepal. I'd like to think this country will remain its lovely, spiritual self. But what is a nation but its people? This is a question every world citizen should ask.


Friday, March 30, 2018


Jumbo jets are seas of humanity, hundreds of people jammed into tight quarters, each with their own pasts, presents, futures — and languages. Some travel in pairs: old couples with their heads tipped together in sleep; lovers on honeymoons. Others travel in groups: families and babies in the bulkhead. Many travel alone, as I did.

When I arrived home this morning, I looked out the window of the bus taking me to the main terminal to see the craft that had just borne me home. We flew up and over from Dubai to Dulles, crossing eastern Europe and Scandinavia, Labrador and Nova Scotia.

And now, miraculously, I'm home.  The busy boulevards of Bangkok, the dusty thoroughfares of Kathmandu, are behind me now,  alive in photographs and memories. How improbable it all seems, to travel to the other side of the world and back. How very lucky I was to have done it. How grateful I am to be home.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Hospitality and Hope

Last night we visited Boudhanath. Pilgrims walk three times around the stupa, touching the prayer wheels, burning incense, sometimes even prostrating themselves. We walked three times around, too.

As I prepare to leave this wonderful country, I'm remembering something my colleague and friend Chadani said to me last evening as we were leaving Boudhanath.

"In my culture, we treat our visitors like gods."

That's exactly right! I've been fed and gifted and given far more than I can ever return.

The culture of hospitality gives me hope. If we can treat the visitor, the stranger, with such loving care and concern, then can't we ultimately learn to live together in peace?


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Consider the Courtyard

We don't have these where I live, these vine-draped, sun-splashed oases of calm in the midst of busy cities. But the courtyard at my hotel is, I think,  one of the most enchanting places I've ever seen.

Wisteria vines hang heavy over tiled roofs. Something fragrant — frangipani? spirea? — blooms by the pool, which is filled by spouts of cool, piped-in water augmented by a sculpture spring.

A bird I've never heard before chatters in the shrubbery. Incense wafts from a small shrine, and water trickles from a quiet fountain.

To enter this courtyard is to feel an ancient spirit, tapping the inner peace of a place designed for tranquility.

Since I've been in Nepal I've considered the courtyard, the haven it provides, how it soothes the soul. Considered it — and coveted it, too.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Luckiest Dog in Kathmandu

This morning I spotted a new friend at the hotel, a dog named ... Maya — which astute readers of yesterday's post will recognize as the name of the safa tempo driver I described yesterday. It's a lovely name and this seems like a lovely dog.

Maya knows how to work the room. She walks around the hotel lobby and outside in the courtyard where there are tables and tidbits. She is fat and happy. She is not your typical Nepali mongrel.

Kathmandu has a wild dog problem — this in addition to its mean monkey problem and its abandoned cow problem. Packs of wild dogs roam the streets and alleys of Nepal's capital city, and they carry rabies and (from the looks of it) mange.

The cows are especially pathetic. Since Nepal is primarily Hindu and cows can't be killed, some people simply abandon their animals when they're through with them, especially since the earthquake in 2015. Cars must swerve to avoid hitting the animals, this in a bustling city of three million people. Sometimes people take pity on the cows, but more often than not, fate is not kind to these beasts.

But back to Maya. The wild dogs I've seen run in packs, bark at cars, and (especially in the warm afternoons) curl up and nap wherever they like, including the street. But Maya walks proudly ... and alone. She is plump and well-mannered.  I'd love to know her story. Is she a favored pet? She's the only golden lab I've seen here, so I don't think she's ever been on the street.  Maya is, at least as far as I can tell, the luckiest dog in Kathmandu.


Monday, March 26, 2018

View from a Safa Tempo

I spent much of today riding in the back of a three-wheeled electric vehicle that somehow, improbably, holds 12 people, not including the driver, a woman named Maya, one of the first female safa tempo drivers in Kathmandu.

Maya has made a living for herself, her children and her extended family by dint of much hard work and personal sacrifice. When she first started driving these vehicles, women were rare behind their wheel ... and they were harassed. Now she's not only become a fixture on her route but has trained other women who drive for a living, too.

When she finished her 12-hour-plus shift, Maya took us to her house and made us a cup of tea. Serving others ... again. The view from a safa tempo is almost all she sees. I wish she could see herself as I see her — a model of serving others.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Walker in the Himalayas

Sunrise in Nagorkot
Today I did what I do so often at home: take off walking to see what I can see. Only today I wasn't sure where I was going. Oh, I had a basic idea, but it was very basic ... and I had no sooner walked down a hill than I realized I would have to walk back up it again.

That's OK, I told myself. I was using both the up muscles and the down muscles. And it wasn't that awkward walking through a village where I was so close to one house I could smell the coffee. (Actually it was, so I snapped only one picture there, and very quickly.)

I eventually reached my destination by jumping in a cab with two Russians, only to end up at the same observation tower I had been to before. There I ran into Chinese tourists I'd seen on my second trip down the hill and shared another cab that finally deposited me at Club Himalaya in Nagorkot, where I was meeting a colleague.

Whew! Maybe I should call this a Cabber in the Himalayas.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Buddha's Birthplace

Today we visited the sacred garden in Lumbini and saw the marker stone that represents the exact place where the Buddha was born. Brickwork around the stone dates back to 300 B.C., which makes it part of the oldest structure in Nepal.

To meditate at Lumbini is to come closer to enlightenment, said our guide, and plenty of people were trying. We, however, were at the tail end of two days of field visits with farmers, fishers, traders and more. I hope we gave the spot the reverence it deserved.

Later, we hopped a flight back to Kathmandu aboard a Buddha Air flight. A funny name for an airline. Patient acceptance? Life is suffering?

Neither one is their motto ... but the plane that was supposed to leave at  4:20 left at 7 p.m. instead. And we patiently accepted the delay.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Dry Zone

This morning we flew to Bhairahawa, near the Indian border, to visit a rice mill, agrovet (seed store) and various vegetable collection centers and farmer's groups in the region.
To reach these places, we traveled some bumpy, rutted, and in some cases unpaved, roads. When I say "we" I mean the convoy of seven SUVs, several of which say "U.S. AID from the American people" — though the words were frequently obscured by the dust we kicked up.

Let's just say it was wonderful to step into the Buddha Maya Garden Hotel in Lumbini and be greeted with a cool washcloth. They don't call it the dry zone for nothing!


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wandering in the Square

Yesterday I found myself with a windfall, a three-hour window without meetings or interviews.

I also found myself in Patan Durbar Square. Durbar squares (I've just learned) are plazas opposite old royal palaces. The Patan one is, according to the guidebook "a marvel of Newari architecture."The Newaris are the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley.

The square was filled with stupas and temples ... and rubble. The 2015 earthquake is still very much in evidence here, with piles of gravel, half restored buildings and blue tarps everywhere. The town is also getting a new water supply, which means even more digging and dust.

None of this stops anyone, though, least of all the ubiquitous and death-defying motorcycle taxis, which whizz around corners with complete abandon.

Luckily, I found a car taxi to take me home. All I  had to do was share it with the driver's brothers and a 100-pound bag of concrete.

It was the perfect way to wind down a wander.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Swayambhu Temple

Kathamandu, Nepal, is a town of three million people and no working traffic lights. The valley in which this enchanting town sits fills up with dust and pollution, and the Himalayas (which we saw yesterday from the air) makes sure the exhaust fumes don't go away.

But none of that matters when you're at Swayambhu Temple, walking around the stupas and soaking up the atmosphere. The prayer flags are flying, the monkeys are angling for food, and the city is spread out at your feet.

This is an ancient, holy, crazy place — and I can't wait to see more of it.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Stored Energy

Yesterday we learned about some agricultural innovations. There's the nutritious spirulina (aka algae), which is being grown on a Thai rooftop, collected, semi-dried and added to pastas, puddings and more. It tastes like whatever it's in, but it packs an impressive amount of protein into a tiny package. Maybe it will help feed the world's burgeoning population in 2050. Or at least that's the hope of its producer.

Spirulina is much more appetizing than another idea we heard about today: black soldier flies. Though no one was proposing that we start eating them — yet —the critters are being dried and used for fish food. So if you eat the fish ... well, you know.

One more drying story is that of Rhino beads, ceramic beads that absorb moisture, keep seeds fresh and reduce spoilage, where farmers lose an impressive percentage of their crops.

As I sat there taking notes, my mind was full to bursting with the possibilities of it all. After the presentations and interviews, I walked down the street to a nearby park, where runners were making the circuit. From mental energy to physical energy.

It was an energetic whirlwind of a day. I want to capture and store it — not unlike seeds or spirulina —and save it for another day.

Monday, March 19, 2018


Yesterday we toured a port outside Bangkok where migrant workers can find information and help. Some members of my group climbed aboard this ship to look inside. They found ... very many fishermen in a very small space. But all of them were legal (we think).

People who work to end human trafficking are a passionate, patient lot. They know the odds are against them, but foresee a future without modern slavery. And because they are patient they are making progress.

The fisherman's center we saw today is one sign of that progress. Even something as simple as wireless access can make a difference to someone far from home, someone earning in a week what we spent on lunch.

So for now, though problems may mire us in the present, some of us are looking to the future.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Briefly from Bangkok

I have five minutes before starting the official part of my work day here ... just time to say I'm on the other side of the world. And though I've yet to experience any Bangkok street life, I do have the delightfully different experience of signing in to post the blog this morning on this screen. (See Thai script on the right and left navigation bars.)

Luckily, muscle memory tells me which link to check. My Thai is definitely not up to the task.

Though I can say Sawasdee Ka! Which means something like hello!


Friday, March 16, 2018

Asia Bound

Tomorrow I leave for Asia: three days in Bangkok and nine in Nepal. My mission: to cover my organization's board of directors' trip and do additional reporting on women electric vehicle drivers in Kathmandu. It's a plum assignment and I've been preparing for weeks: getting a visa and antimalarial meds, filling out forms, conducting interviews, writing and editing stories that can be published while I'm gone.

This morning I'm fielding emails from Nepal and making a last-minute schedule change. I'm figuring out how to cram two suitcases worth of clothing and electronics (I'm a human pack animal, ferrying swag and equipment from one continent to another) into one suitcase.

And finally, finally, I'm imagining what these places will be like on the other side of the world, the mountains, the temples, the Buddhist prayer flags waving.

It's time for another adventure ... 


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Toys Aren't Us

I was sad to learn that Toys R Us will be closing its stores. Not that I liked them much in their heyday. Then I was sad about the smaller closings, the independents and the Zany Brainys. But still, this marks the end of an era. Not just of toy stores but of the sort of children who frequented them.

My kids grew up with real, tangible playthings — blocks and puzzles and Legos — and of course the boxes they came in. Electronic toys were beginning to enter the market, but barely. Now they dominate the market, and, I'm afraid, childhood itself.

What becomes of children who touch screens instead of play dough, who swipe instead of stack? I guess they become the people suited for a digital universe. All I know is, I'm glad I raised my kids when there were Barbies and Bratz and My Pretty Ponies — and the big warehouse store that sold them.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Year of the Bird

National Geographic is one of those magazines that comes into the house, lands on the coffee table and stays there. When the pile of glossy magazines is tall enough, I take it to the basement. Every so often, I read one of them. This time, it's "Why Birds Matter" from the January issue. I unearthed it this morning after hearing its author, the novelist Jonathan Franzen, talking about it on the radio yesterday.

Turns out, National Geographic and the Audubon Society have proclaimed 2018 the "Year of the Bird." It's the centennial of the 1918 Migratory Bird Act, the nation's oldest conservation law, and in its honor the magazine has given us a rapturous piece about raptors, hornbills, parrots, owls, doves, crows, you name it.

"When someone asks me why birds are so important to me, all I can do is sigh and shake my head, as if I've been asked to explain whey I love my brothers," Franzen writes. Birds are diverse as the world is diverse, they are also a link to our evolutionary past. They are smart and beautiful and playful (you can apparently watch a Youtube video of crows sledding). They sing, nest and raise their young and, most of all, they fly.

"The radical otherness of birds is integral to their beauty and their value," Franzen writes. "They are always among us but never of us."

In the words of Henry Beston, who I've quoted several times in this blog: "They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of time and life."


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Leaving in the Dark

Once again it's dark when I leave for work and light when I return. This happens every year when we "spring forward," and every year I note the change.

It's not that I don't enjoy the long evenings — though long, frigid evenings are not exactly what I had in mind.

It's more the shift of expectations. Can I still come home, pull on comfy sweat pants and veg out? Not so easy when it's light till 7:30.

On the other hand, leaving in darkness has always signified seriousness of purpose. It's the departure hour for early-morning flights and important interviews.

I feel so virtuous pulling out of the driveway with only moonlight and porch light to guide me. It's like I'm getting a jump on the day — even though it's no earlier than I left last week!

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Signs of Spring

Signs of spring on walks this weekend:
A patch of crocus in the yard next door. 
The first plump buds on the dogwood tree.
A clump of snowdrops in the common land.
Soon there will be lilacs and azalea, the whole show. But for now, I look for the first faint stirrings. 

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Aftermath

They came yesterday to see about the wood, the two straight trunks bisecting the back yard. Did they pass muster as lumber, or must we bring in the tree guys with their whirring chainsaws and chipper?

Don't know the answer yet, but I wonder if they saw the potential, the long straight boards locked into those twin trunks, the 80-foot expanse of prime oak.

What I see is the chaos, the splintered branch, like bone through skin, the errant stick impaled in earth. I see the volunteer cherry uncentered and the earth ball like the underside of a mushroom.

I can barely stand to look at the trampoline. Of course, I can barely see the trampoline, so lost is it beneath the branches.

I see the heft, the waste, the terror. I see everything you don't expect and some of what you do.

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Friday, March 9, 2018


I almost missed this one, noticed out of the corner of my eye that yesterday's post was 2,399. Which makes today's one of those round numbers that I write about from time to time.

It's the ultimate in solipsism, right? A blog about the things I think about while walking ... then a post about how many other posts I've written!

Posts on running and dancing and bouncing, about mothering and working and traveling. Posts on grieving and gratitude.

What can I say? We live in a confessional age, and this is about as confessional as I can get.  Which is to say, not as much as some, but more than others — and more than I ever thought I'd be.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Woman, Writing

This morning I passed a woman in the lobby. She was sitting in a chair, writing in her journal.

Not tapping on her phone, not scrolling down the tiny screen. But engaged with the paper and the pen.

I noticed this not only because I believe in it and practice it, but because it is so rare.

When you address the page, the page does not talk back to you. It absorbs your words, the wise and the silly. It gives you space, a blank expanse without spell-check or word complete. For that reason, it is serene, even empowering.

Today is International Woman's Day. I just wrote and posted a story to celebrate it. But when I think of Woman's Day 2018, what I'll keep in mind is not a year of marches and #metoo. It's the quiet communion of writer and page. It's the image of a woman writing.

(Pensive, a painting by Edmund Blair Leighton)

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018


Yesterday I read about a new trend that started in Sweden. It's called plogging, which comes from "jogging" combined with "plocka-uppa" (Swedish for pick up). The idea is simple. You take a trash bag along on a run and collect the odd plastic bottles and cigarette butts you encounter. Disposable gloves are recommended.

Translate this to walking and you have "plalking" — or do you?

I care about the environment and have even been known to pick up a bit of errant trash. But I can't see turning my fast walks into scavenger sessions. It's about the rhythm, you see.

The cadence of the stroll is a large part of its magic. Take that away and you have ... beach combing.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Warp Speed

At some point in my young life I decided that busyness was a key to happiness. I don't remember making a conscious decision about this, but I do recall getting involved in one club or class after another. Why not join the choir, take modern dance, continue with piano lessons? Why not become a resident assistant in a dorm the same year I'm learning to be a high school English teacher?

Most of the time I could pull this off. Sometimes I made myself crazy. But life is seldom boring.

I write about this today because it's one of those busy stretches when the amount of tasks to be completed make me dizzy. Most of these are work-related but there are a few personal ones thrown into the mix.

In fact, I shouldn't even take the time to write this post. Too late now, though, it's al... most ... done!

(Seascapes can be relaxing when living at warp speed.)


Monday, March 5, 2018

Hooray For ...

I enjoyed the movies nominated for Best Picture this year more than I have any crop in years. Either I'm getting inured to the Zeitgeist, or there were more throwbacks. The latter, I think.

What was not a throwback was the ceremony itself. I realized at the end of it that what I look for in the Oscars is some kind of old-time glamour that hasn't been there in years. Last year's ceremony had such a shocking conclusion that it didn't matter. The year before that I was probably too rattled to care.

But this year, I did notice, I did care and I did wonder. When things seem Not the Same, how much of it is because things are actually changing, how much is the raging of age ("nothing is as good as it used to be, dearie") ... and how much is a combination of the two?

(Danielle Darrieux from In Memoriam,


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Toppled and Crushed

I knew it was a dumb title ... Kingdom of the Wind. Well, that kingdom just took down not only the Sword of Damocles, but the 110-foot-tall split-trunk oak that had snagged it. And with an awe-inspiring precision, the huge tree fell right on top of my trampoline.

Smashed it, split it right down the middle.

I'm grateful no one was hurt, that Copper wasn't in the yard ... and of course that I wasn't bouncing at the time (not that I would have been in 60-mile-an-hour gusts).

But the trampoline meant so much to me, as did the tree — and now they're both gone.

Soon there will be chainsaws, re-fencing, carting the trampoline away. There will be estimates, expenditures, recalculations.

But there won't be that portal to the sky.

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Friday, March 2, 2018

Kingdom of the Wind

When the wind blows this hard (gusts up to 67 miles an hour), I feel like I've entered another country, a howling, raging place, a Kingdom of the Wind. I wake to its sound.

The bamboo beats a rough staccato on the siding, and there's a clanging I can't quite place. Is it a rogue bucket on the deck, or old Jacob Marley rattling his chains?

With winds this high, either Dulles Airport is closed, or diverting its traffic to an alternate runway, one that goes ... right over our house! So on top of wondering if a tree will fall, I'm worried that a plane will, too.

An unsettled morning to be sure, with government offices closed and my office shuttered. I have one question: Will the errant branch we call the Sword of Damocles finally be blown out of the old oak? It's dancing madly out there now, but is so wedged in place that it lingers still.

Just lost power ... just got it back ...

It will be a long day here in the Kingdom of the Wind.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Flowers, Real and Imagined

Here in Crystal City, folks are trying hard. Brightly patterned skins have gone over the gray stone buildings, blank walls have sprout faux gardens, while not far away a sheltered cherry tree breaks into early bloom.

A colleague thinks we're trying to lure Amazon's HQ2, and that may be the case.

But all the paint and netting in the world can't camouflage the button-downed corporate soul of this place. The only thing that does that for me are the people. At lunchtime on a warm day, the place is full of life. Pale office workers play ping-pong or corn hole. Smokers linger longer in front of buildings. Bikers and runners mingle on the sidewalks.

So if paint and netting bring out the people, then bring them on!

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