Sunday, 31 January 2016

Namaste Nepal :)

First impressions
I can hardly believe it myself, but I am already back in Kathmandu since 4 weeks! Many things have happened and I can hardly decide where to start ;)

I am staying in the VSO Volunteering house in Jawalakhel, which is a really nice area in Kathmandu.

VSO Volunteering House
Every morning I am passing by this amazing 'GERMAN Bakery' to buy one croissant for my afternoon coffee at work. It is soooo tasty and affordable, even with my Volunteer allowance ;)

My favourite 'GERMAN Bakery'

Roof Terrace
I love the house, especially the roof terrace with a view onto the lake in the zoo, the hills around Kathmandu and when the weather is really clear I was already so fortunate to the see the stunning Ganesh Himal! It is just a 30min walk to the VSO office and I actually do enjoy walking every morning.

First I thought I might not remember much about Kathmandu from my previous stay 3.5 years ago, but spending more time here, many memories are coming back and it is getting much easier to find my way around.
There is a great community spirit amongst the VSO volunteers and I am really enjoying it. The VSO staff is so kind and I am really looking forward to start working in my special project.

VSO Volunteers - just girls on this picture ;)

When I first arrived I did spend my first Sunday walking into town and to get a coffee in Thamel. It takes a good hour to walk there, but with lovely sunshine it feels good :) I have never ever seen Thamel, which is the main tourist area in Kathmandu, so empty. I had known, that there would be less tourists, but there were hardly any at all. Not only the earthquake in 2015 keeps people away, but also the fuel shortages and the political situations at the moment. Many small Nepali businesses are suffering from this situation enormously!

Power Cuts
Load shedding is horrendous once again. We have no electricity for up to 15 hours per day, 7 days a week. This is challenging, but what can I say. Nepali people have to deal with this situation since many years and just got used to it. After 4 weeks I actually got used to it as well and your whole day and life evolves around the electricity schedule, which is called Load Shedding.

Cooking Gas shortage
On top of the heavy load shedding we also have to cope with the man-made Indian/Nepali Boarder blockage and therefore the prices for Gas bottles are skyrocketing.  People are talking about that the price is 10 times more than before the blockade and therefore not affordable! The Gas bottle in the VSO house is empty and we cannot replace it. We got an electric cooking plate which is great, however I usually only manage to cook 1-2x per week, as the power cuts are always happening during dinner time. The small Nepali place around the corner is happy to see his returning customers so, where I have food many times during the week.

VSO Annual Conference
I was not even one week in Nepal and I was already on my way to the Annual VSO Conference outside of Kathmandu to meet all the volunteers and staff of VSO Nepal. We had 3 lovely days together and it was great to get to know the whole team. 
VSO Team Nepal
We had two brilliant entertaining nights of games and dancing. Some volunteers gave us some insights about their placements and we watched two really emotional movies. One about the earthquake, the relief efforts in Kathmandu and some personal stories of people which had been buried under gravel for days, but did survive! Such moving scenes! The 2nd movie was about a girl in the district of Mugu, in the Mid-West of Nepal and her desire to play soccer! I could really relate to this movie, as she had to fight and put her foot down to be able to participate in tournaments and to leave her home for a few days to take part in them, walking for days to the neighboring district called Humla. 

On my way to work
We do live just right next to the zoo here in Kathmandu. Therefore it was a wonderful surprise last Friday when I saw the only elephant in the zoo when he was brought out for his morning feeding time around the block, which happened to be my way to work :) It was wonderful to see the elephant on the streets of Kathmandu. However, I also felt a little bit sad as I heard it is the only elephant in the whole zoo. I am sure he or she does feel a little lonely.

The elephant on Kathmandu's Roads

My VSO Role - 'National Disaster Coordination Advisor'
I came to VSO Nepal with the expectation to live in Sindulpachowk, in one of the most affected districts of the April 2015 earthquake and to live in a tent. That was in my job description before I had left. After 2 weeks it was clear, that VSO got some special funding from DFID to set up a National Disaster Recovery Coordination Secretariat comprising of two volunteers and 3 Nepali staff. One volunteer was I :) First I was a bit disappointed that my placement had changed, but after I had read through the proposal of the new Secretariat I got really excited. We would be looking after the 14 most effected district of the earthquake and work together with the District Lead Support Agencies to collect data, understand the needs of the district offices and the local communities to find synergies, to share data and to learn from the challenges other districts are facing as well as from things which do work well. We had our first meeting with the District Lead agencies and we got very positive responses. Next week, we will decide with the input from the Lead Agencies on which districts of the 14 we should focus on. Exciting times ahead! It will involve a lot of travelling for me during the week to the different districts but I am really looking forward to it.

My favourite place in Kathmandu – the Stupa in Boudha
Boudha Stupa 2012

Boudha Stupa 2016 - Renovation has started
After two weeks on a Sunday I decided to make my way to my favourite place in Kathmandu. The massive Stupa in Boudha is so beautiful and there is so much energy around this place that I really love spending time there. I had heard that some parts of the Stupa were destroyed after the earthquake, however most people told me it is not severe. So I walked to Rathnapark from my house and took a Minibus from there out to Boudha. It is North-East of Kathmandu, just outside of the Ring Road. I found the tiny alleyway again, the sneaky back entrance for locals, so you don’t need to pay the tourist entrance fee. No bad Karma as I am actually not a tourist, but a working volunteer ;) 

The whole top part is missing
After a few steps through the tiny winding lanes I reached the wider circle of the Stupa. OMG, here it was the once impressive beautiful Stupa very much destroyed on the top and all the small little stupa’s surrounding the main Stupa were destroyed. 
It touched my heart and for the first time since I returned to Nepal I felt it deeply that there was a massive earthquake. You can see pictures, you can listen to people describing it and you can read about it. But seeing your favourity place in such a stage did hurt and I felt so sad for all the Nepali & Tibatan people who come to this stupa every day to do their rounds of praying and mediation. They will be reminded every single day about this massive earthquake who had such force to destroy parts of this enormous Stupa. 

Walking around the stupa
After the first impression sank in and settled a little, I decided to do a few rounds. 

Walking around the Stupa was still very special. It was so peaceful, you could chant while walking and it was such lovely energy around and within me. 

I decided to look for my favourite coffee place, however it was gone. I decided to try some side streets and some backyards and here you go. Café Flavor’s had moved and is now located in a green backyard, behind the Stupa. I had a little rest before I decided to go for a few more rounds.

Local people sitting around the stupa

Dhamma Sisters :)
Reunion with an Irish friend – Dhamma Sisters

When I first came to Nepal in 2012 I met Caroline through Susan, a dear Australian friend which I met while trekking through the Himalaya's. Susan had met Caroline during her Vipassana Meditation and introduced me to her as I lived in Ireland :) We became friends, we had lovely chats over a cup of tea or coffee and shared similar interests such as teaching English and practicing meditation. Caroline stayed all these years in Kathmandu with her second half Kenta, got married and she just came back from India two weeks after I had arrived here in Kathmandu. We met for a cup of coffee and we went for an hour of Vipassana Meditation :) So beautiful! I am so grateful that Caroline is still here in Kathmandu.

Reception party to mark Heetasha & Koshesha’s Gufa ceremony in 
Newari Tradition

Heetasha & Koshesha 
All VSO colleagues were invited by my Program Manager Geehta to a so called 'Gufa ceremony'. Her daughter and nice celebrated this Newari tradition , where the Newari girl child gets married minimum two times in their lives, first marriage to the fruit of the Bel tree. The belief is that since men can be unfaithful, the girl’s first marriage should be one in which unfaithfulness cannot occur (No Bel fruit is going to run off with someone else!). The second marriage is to the Sun God, that’s the one we were attending. The idea behind such absurd sounding marriages is actually quietly romantic. By marrying a little girl to a bel fruit and then to the sun, Newar traditions ensures that even in a possible unfortunate death of the girl’s husband, the girl will not be deemed a widow, a title that was looked upon with great disdain and intolerance by older societies because of her prior marriages. These traditions may therefore have been designed by the Newars to save their little girls from disrespectful treatment by the community.

Independence – My new bicycle called “Prince Diana”

Vogmask - Ready to go!

After 3 weeks of walking to the VSO office and taking Mini-Busses at the weekend, I decided to buy a bicycle. We get a small allowance from VSO for a very basic bicycle and therefore I decided to buy a basic one with no gears. The allowance didn’t cover the whole bike, but a good bit of it. The brand is ‘Prince’, manufactured in India and it is dark red with a few stickers on saying “Prince Diana”! I had to giggle when I saw this first ;) But hey, who has a bike called Prince Diana! I love my bike :) 

It gives me independence and I can finally cycle around Kathmandu. I also got a helmet, some lights and finally a ‘Vogmask’ with a filter against the pollution, when cycling around rush hour. 

Cycling uphill is a bit challenging with no gears, but at least it keeps me fit ;) 

I already cycled into the city center and did a bit of an excursion outside the Ringroad to Bhaisipati. I love to cycle around the city to discover the different areas of the Southside of Kathmandu!

Footbridge and the other one for vehicles to cross Bagmati River

Visit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Local Development (MoFALD) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MoFA) Office

After 3 weeks, I had my first visit to two government offices in Kathmandu. It started off with some learning’s 'How does the system work' ;) You can only enter the main gate for the ministries if your car has a blue plate. VSO does have one, so we were fine. I was wondering how it would work if I would come with my bicycle and it seems like that would be very difficult to get access. We had two good meetings and both departments were very supportive for our project. Looking forward to see how this goes. I also attended a workshop with remarks from different government officials, speakers from different INGO's and NGO's, which was organised by Action Aid. 


It was a good event, I am learning a lot and meeting lovely people. The view onto the garden was amazing, considering you were in the middle of Kathmandu!

Job Roles always come with a surprise
So myself and another VSO volunteer will be hiring 3 Nepali staff, 2 Information Manager Adviser and one Admin staff for 6 months. Guess what I was doing last week. I did scan all the incoming CV’s and selected candidates for interviews for next week. I will be part of the interview panel and I am very excited indeed. After leaving IBM I didn’t think that I will ever hire people again, especially in Nepal ;) But I am more than pleased and I do enjoy the hiring process for sure. Wish us luck, that we can find the right people for our team so we can help Nepal in the Coordination efforts for the post-earthquake.

Accommodation Hunting in Kathmandu

The VSO House for the volunteers is really lovely. I am staying in room no. 5 and I do really like it.

We do have 6 bedrooms and if the house is full it is very busy. In particular with so many power cuts, everybody would need to be mindful not charging any devices, so the solar backup actually does last for one light in each room and the internet. This might not sound so critical to you, but if you have no electricity for 15 hours per day, it becomes really important ;)

After my placement with VSO had changed and my base is actually Kathmandu, I decided to go house hunting. Ruth, another volunteer also based in Kathmandu and I decided to look for a place to share, as we might get something nicer if we put our allowances from VSO together. So we looked at 3 different places so far and one is my absolute favourite! It is in a quiet, safe area in cycle distance to VSO and Ruth office and we would be very close to all the other volunteers as well.  Lots of bakeries around and access to shops and supermarkets. The apartment has a balcony, 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. It would be perfect :) Hope we will get it and so we could move Mid of February! I will keep you all posted and hope you are looking forward to the next blog entry!


  1. Loved the post, you're doing amazing job! Happy for you and happy that there's such an organization! Take care. xoxo

  2. Great blog Kerstin, lovely to hear all about VSO Kathmandu and your work there. Keep them coming! All the best, Hester

  3. A wonderful account of all you have been doing much in just a month.I hope the rest is inspiring and helpful to the people most in need.x Kathy

  4. Thanks so much for all your lovely comments :) Really appreciated xx

  5. You are really at a great place and having a great job Kerstin :)

    1. Thanks Luan, I am really grateful for it :) I think this was meant to be!

  6. Namaste Kerstin, Got to your blog via Jessica's newsletter.
    Good luck with all of your efforts in KTM. It is great that you can be there helping the lovely Nepali people with all that they have to struggle with.
    I was a VSO in Nepal (Tehratum) from 1982-85 then worked for another 2 years in Kathmandu so it is lovely to see your photos.
    After the earthquake last year I did a 'pop up' café in my kitchen in Norwich and fed people dhal baat and showed them my slides - they made a donation which went straight to the Nepal Disaster Fund. It would have been lovely to be able to do more but I had fun doing it and the people that came loved hearing about the people of Nepal.
    I am sure you will get a lot out of your time there. Very best wishes for all that you are trying to do.
    I do hope that the blockade is resolved soon for everyone's sake.
    Pam Hemmings
    ps my Namastes to everyone at the VSO office even though they probably aren't the same as my time there.

    1. Namaste Pam! It is so nice to hear from you and I am glad you found my blog ;) I will say hello from you in the office tomorrow, Gopal might remember you I hope. I will post updates on a regular base here, if you wanna give me your email I can put you on the list. Or if you are on Facebook we can connect there as well if you like. It is great that you did some fundraising for Nepal in Norwich! Will let you know how the next weeks will go. Best wishes from Kathmandu. K.