Today Naomi and I havegone our different ways - Naomi has gone to a Nepali Bible Study with Sarah and then spent the afternoon with Sarah and the children - and I have been spending time with Paul and visiting some of the places and people I have heard about through our church link with them.
This morning I went with him to the office of Nepal Christian Relief Services, which responds to calls for help after local disasters (floods, landslides, village fires etc), when asked by the leadership of the local church. Bigger disasters on a wider scale are usually responded to by the Government and the bigger agencies such as Save the Children, Oxfam etc. I met the Co-ordinator of the charity. We had a time in prayer and Bible Study (Isaiah 37 in Nepali - it's all about Hezekiah and proved a bit difficult to explain to the Nepalis!). Then I saw some powerpoint presentations about various projects they had been involved with, and the influence such relief work has on the credibility of the local Christian presence in a majority Hindu country.
We then had lunch with a Nepali Christian whose studies in social work have been part-funded by our Church in Cullercoats. He does an amazing ministry amongst street people with mental health problems, enabling them to access medical treatment and find agency support to help them turn their lives around. He has some incredible stories of individuals whose lives have been transformed, because there is very little provision for or even interest in mental health issues. He showed me photos of young people chained to beds or begging in streets with chronic physical health problems caused by them being uncared for because of mental illness. He helps them to be cared for, treated for both physical and mental problems, and rehabilitated with ongoing medical care into the community and even family life once more. And he does all this voluntarily. We had a wonderful time together.
Then we walked to the HQ of United Mission to Nepal which is a 50-year-old agency for mission work through relief, development and educational work. It is a very well organised multi-national charity which does an enormous range of projects. I met lots of people there and heard some stories about work in remote villages through which Nepalis hear the Gospel for the very first time and convert almost en bloc because they see miraculous healings in worship as well as lots of loving care in relief work from the Christians who work and worship amongst them.
We then returned home (walking past the Mary Poppins Prep School on one street!) and met up with Naomi and Sarah and the children, before Paul whisked the two of us off to the south of Kathmandu to visit a children's home called Sahara (Nepali for "help"), which our church has also helped financially to support too. We met the couple who have opened up their home to both orphans and those whose parents cannot look after them for a variety of reasons. They have 20 children there as well as their own two children - and live as one massive family - with bunk beds all over the place. The couple are really lovely and we had a lovely time visiting them - in a way it wasn't too different from Watoto in Uganda, but on a smaller, individual scale.
We returned home rather weary but feeling we had had a very fulfilling day. We enjoyed good conversation and food with Paul and Sarah and played with their two pet rats, but both of us got pooed and wee-ed on. Ah well, off to bed now.
Today has been a very busy day! As Dad has already said, we separated up a bit to do different things. Jack and Asha went to their friend's house, while Dad and Paul went together and I went with Sarah.
We walked the kids off to their friend's house before setting off for the ladies bible study that Sarah leads. We caught a taxi to an American mission worker's house where it is held (she is away on leave at the moment). The house was beautiful and quite big too! I later found out that some of it is sublet to others - the American lady doesn't own it as only Nepalis can own land / property, so foreigners have to rent. Sarah had warned me that the class starts at 10.30, but in Nepali time so in the end we didn't start until 11.10!
The women came in looking well dressed - most in saris which are similar to their Sunday best. They come in, put their hands together and say 'jiemasie' which is like a Christian alternative to the Hindu 'namaste'. The study was conducted in Nepali, but Sarah translated it all into English for me and I followed an English bible. There were 4 women who read the bible readings aloud to the group - 3 very easily but one lady was slower and unsure due to a lack of literacy skills. However, it was excellent that she had a go, as most of the others won't even try.
After the main study on Mark 8 (which was hard but done well), Sarah asked for prayer requests and it went round the circle. In England it would be 1 or 2 sentences, but not here! Each woman would talk for at least 5 minutes - many giving all the details of their request, one kind of preaching and one even advertised a worship evening! It was all very bizarre, but Sarah told me what they were saying. However, when it got to an old woman sitting next to me, I asked Sarah what she was talking about and even she didn't know! Everyone else understood her croaky voice and dodgy actions and were in hysterics - we were just hoping they weren't laughing at us! Then everyone stood up and stood in a circle, holding hands. Sarah told me this is the way they pray and that everyone prays out loud at the same time during this. It was an amazing thing to witness as all the women just prayed for ages and were quite loud in doing so. But they were really involved with what they were doing and it was lovely to see.
So many amazing stories came from the women in the room about their lives. One collected plastic for recycling to make money. For every kilo of plastic she collected, she only got 5 rupees. She was very poor and couldn't afford shoes so worked barefoot. You could tell this by the awful condition her feet were in.
Another had loads of burnt patches all over her body, and tried to wear long clothes to cover them. She grew up in a Christian family, but rebelled by marrying a much older man and having a baby with him. He soon abandoned them both. She had a new partner with who she had a child, but he was very cruel to her then also left. She became very depressed and tried to commit suicide by pouring paraffin over herself and setting it alight. She didn't die but spent 8 months recovering in hospital.
Another, who is now a pastor's wife, joined the Maoists when she was attracted by the good parts of it. When the Nepali army were beginning to track down and kill the Maoists, she began to doubt what she was doing there. She was in a village one day, washing her hair, when she heard the army approaching. She prayed to God, promising to change her lifestyle if he would make them notice her. Sure enough, they passed without taking her and she kept her promise. She is now taking a master's degree in theology and preaching in church!
There were also 2 women there who used to have leprosy. The first was quite old and had really suffered with the illness - she had only one leg, no fingers and poor skin. She had spent 16 years in hospital recovering. The second was a very pretty 22 year old who had lost half her foot, some toes and some fingers. Her family had rejected her and she had come to Kathmandu by herself at 17 to get help. Both had been treated under the Leprosy Mission and became Christians in hospital.
After the bible study - and a slice of cake - we caught a micro bus to the centre which cost us 12 rupees each (about 10p!). People even stared on the bus, but we are getting better at ignoring them now. We had lunch in a shopping mall and had an omelette, chapattis and water each. The bill was 120 rupees, which was less than £1 all together!
We left the shopping mall to catch a tempo to the American Club where we were meeting Jack and Asha. Sarah thought we needed a number 5 so we got on one, clambering over everyone else on there. However, it is disrespectful to lift your foot over someone's leg or anything, so you kind of have to manoeuvre round them - not the easiest thing to do. She asked the driver if it was going that way, just to be sure, but he said no so we had to climb off again! We then asked a lady which number we needed to be on and she said 5! So we decided to get on an unmarked tempo and ask the driver to go that way, which he did.
A tempo is a 3-wheeled vehicle with an area for the driver, then about a 1.5m long area for passengers in the back, with benches down each side. The back is open with no door so you can get out, but it definitely wouldn't be allowed in England! Sarah and I sat next to the back and we could see straight out the back which was fun. But then it started raining… By the time we got off the tempo, the rain was heavier. We grabbed our coats / umbrellas and walked quickly! The drains were already massively overflowing and it was continuously getting heavier.
When we reached the American Club, our bags had to go through a scanner, like in the airport. Then they wouldn't let us go through without someone with us, even though Sarah knew the way. So we had to wait and watch the rain outside turn into a proper monsoon downpour - which it did! When we finally went outside, the rain wasn't coming in splashes - it was like golf balls and they would hit the ground and bounce high back up again! Every step we took covered my entire shoe, foot and ankle it was so deep.
When we got inside we didn't go swimming (it was an outdoor pool) because of the rain and the fact that the kids were changed and dry. So we sat inside and I had a bagel with cream cheese (well it was an American place!) and read stories to the kids. We caught a taxi home because we were all a bit shattered! As soon as we got back, we went with Paul to the children's home, but Dad has explained that one so I won't! But there were kids there with amazing stories - one had been with the Maoist army in the jungle for 3 years, one was rejected when his mother remarried and the stepdad wanted nothing to do with him, and another had become unwanted when his older sister, who he lived with, had got married.
An early night was in order after some food as we needed our sleep for our last day in Nepal tomorrow!
Thought I would just share some odd things about Nepal that we have noticed or heard about:
- Divorce is legal here, except the man can have as many wives as he wants at the same time - and if the woman is divorced she can't remarry. She also loses her children and he gets them.
- The roads are even more dangerous here than in Uganda - it is really busy all the time due to petrol queues and protests that happen all the time. Just yesterday a Nepali translator working for the bible translation was killed when he was hit by a truck. Here though, if there's a crash the person driving has to pay compensation if they are injured or die. However, if it is a serious injury the compensation can end up very expensive, whereas death is a fixed fee. For this reason, some people will knock someone down, then reverse back over them to make sure they're dead. We are pretty sure this is what happened to the translator - which is awful.
- There is a serious lack of petrol and queues often have around 300 motorbikes and 100 cars waiting for 8-10 hours, often ending up disappointed. It really clogs the roads up though!
- People have odd pets… They leave animals like dogs to walk around wherever they want, with no lead, yet take their goats and buffalo for a walk on a lead. No, I am not joking!
- Kathmandu is higher than any point in the UK - even the mountains!
- People here get their water from water tanks by their house. Therefore if it doesn't rain, there is no water. It is as simple as that. Also, the water around is dirty - there's all kinds of things in it like typhoid and there are cholera problems here. So all the water is filtered here so we can drink it.
- People are very into social status. There is a lot of emphasis on low and high caste people (like low and high class in England) but they are awful about it here. A low caste person cannot go in some places where a high caste person is. A high caste person takes off any clothes made by a low caste person before eating in case it 'infects' their food and other stuff like this. Except, the Christians are very tolerant of this and at the bible study, the women were all treated equally which was lovely!
Got to go now,