Day 5 – Snakes and Squatting Toilets

It is something about this subcontinent that goes under your skin. I wandered off to this afternoon to inspect a gabion wall only to discover that essentially every second gabion is a cobra nest (might be another snake, but I have not stopped long enough to check it out). Anyway this one a new one for the Safe Work Method Statement back at work. The local looked at my Cactus pants and was of quite the opinion that cobra would not strike through this – Not to worry mum I am not about to try this myself – I am looking for another fool.

The other pain I discovered, is this country’s love affair with squatting toilets. Firstly the lock is only on the outside (yes outside), not sure if there is some form of incarceration technique or punishment to be locked into a foul-smelling dark dungeon. Anyway, at the end of this ‘holiday’, I will become a certified bomber pilot.

This morning started like most in a camp, getting water, doing ablutions (squatting toilet here we come once again), cleaning out the tent as it gets dusty and making breakfast. The army is coming round for and distributes cooked rice to children and they asked me if I want some as well? I must have looked starving I guess?! And no I did not take the rice – I was cooking chicken. In hindsight, they might have seen the packet and felt sorry?

One thing is amazing, I am the third day away from showers and I am grimy, smell bad (not as bad some locals – though) and dust is pretty much in every crevice. There are people next tent over who hiked for three days to reach the camp, two of the group are about to give birth in the Norwegian Red Cross hospital across the camp and they look like they walked off a stage and had their clothes cleaned and their hair professionally done. Definitely starting to look like a bad example of western culture. I like to say that travelling with a butler would have been my choice.

Before we broke camp I walked across the camp to a family that walked in for a fair distance to ensure that the baby is born in a safe place. As per Brenden and Jenny’s wish, I donated $100 to this family for supplies for the new arrival as mum is now a widow and in this culture, it is very difficult to manage a household with a husband. The money will ensure that she can get enough corrugate iron and nails to have a home before the rains arrive next two weeks. She promised to call the baby Jenny or Brenden, but I am not sure she got which one is which gender. There might be a girl called Brenden about the Shindupalchok village.

I commandeered a mighty Mahindra, the finest Indian export, to drive to a neighbouring district as there are several villages affected by rockfall, landslide and cliff collapse (where did I see this combination before?). The local magistrate wanted to see if it is in fact as bad as it was portrayed by some US researchers who went through here a few weeks ago. The drive over several passes was not just stunning by the scenery but it also became clear that if the place is not near vertical it is used as a paddy.

When we went over a high pass there were several very loud pops and it turns out that the entire boot was covered by wasabi crisps as the air pressure was too low that the packets started to pop. Ah, yes I forgot to mention that I bought a few packs of wasabi potato chips to go with Lhasa Chicken. Actually the shop owner couldn’t sell it as it apparently tastes horrible – I agree with this! Most were lost in the pass crossing anyway. More Lhasa chicken –hurray! This morning at the tea house I witnessed a chicken being killed right next to me. But we had to leave before it could be processed into something non-Lhasa flavoured.

Along the way to meet my other EERI colleagues, I noticed partially collapsed to totally collapsed buildings including a very impressive pancake collapse on a steep slope where the debris run out for about 100m. Equally impressive was a building on its side, not just leaning – that is actually quite common.

On the last pass, the mighty Hamindra Scorpio ( Factory forgot the ‘n’ I presume) make very strange noises and came to a halt. Half an hour later we were back on the road. I never found out what was broken, but cannot for the life of me fathom what a 10mm spanner and large hammer could be made to repair.

Tonight we are staying at the Civil Defence HQ in the Dolakat District at about 2, 300m elevation. Much to my misery, the driver put my tent into the wrong truck and I found myself without one! However, across the road is the Chinese Red Cross and after some confusion, bargaining and waving my finger about, I have now for two nights one of their emergency shelters for testing and evaluation purposes. Poor beggars didn’t speak a word English and my Nepalese translator who is fluent in Chinese was too much amused to help them out. I shall report if the accommodation was adequate.

We met the local Magistrate or Governor who was a cartoon character representation. He sat behind a large dark timber desk with marble inlays, had his duties from army, armed police and civil defence sitting in chairs alongside and receive every 5minutes a call on his mobile phone (a big status symbol here). We sat on the most uncomfortable couch I ever sat on and it was in wrapped in cling film to prevent us savages dirtying it (he had a point here I admit). Anywho we had a good laugh (with him) and offered to help his engineers.

Dinner was Nepalese chicken curry (it was NOT chicken and I wasn’t about to ask!) and I hope not to see Mr Squatter tonight again. It was a risk based decision, Lhasa Chicken or having dinner in a ‘restaurant’ in a slightly damaged RC frame. Hunger decided that hazard might be worth taking. They had cold beer, screw the damaged RC frame! I even attach a picture of the curry – for evidence gathering purposes if nothing else.

Tomorrow we are visiting with the municipal engineers (who have no clue about land stability) an area where 25, 000 people are cut off by a landslide since the first EQ. I had various information about this cannot wait to see this.

Another funny thing I noticed in Nepal as in other poor parts of the world is to give the population something they never needed in the past, can barely afford and it changes their interaction with each other – the mobile phone. Even in the most remote corner is a mobile cell tower with a data connection.

Anyway over and out, from the foothills of the Himalayas. As usual some photos and feel free to forward to friends.