Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Hard to believe how fast time has flown. Bri and I celebrated a year in September and we've been really happy together. It is hard to believe how much I feel like a different person than I did a year ago. The blog probably deserves a proper update, but for now here's a gif I put together to show the progress of our garden! Bri and I planted a garden last year and you can see we aren't exactly professionals. We were warned by several people that everything was planted too close together, and wouldn't you know it- they were right. But it was a great first step. I'm already looking forward to warm weather and fresh tomatoes!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Camping Weekends 4 & 5

In my continued effort to catch up on posts I wanted to post last year, I present the last post of my summer of camping 2015: Camping Weekends 4 & 5

Camping Weekend 4: So pretty much the moment I got back from Nepal (more like the next day in reality), I was on my way to Canada. A friend had given me (and several others) the opportunity to go to the far side of lake Huron and camp at a mutual friend's property. Though I had planned on camping on the beach, the weather was less than ideal and my tent was bending like I had never seen. Rather than risk losing my tent to breaking and the intense winds, I packed it up and stayed the night inside. Since I had JUST gotten back from Nepal, I was happy to sleep on a bed rather than the ground. So, technically, camping weekend 4 wasn't a real camping weekend. Though I did capture some beautiful shots of the lake and the storm coming in.

Camping weekend 5: As a sort of tradition, I try to go camping once a year with several of my old art major friends (and their spouses). In 2015 we did a 4th of July weekend camping trip near Lake Michigan. Lots of fun was had. A couple of years ago we did an art major trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and I was introduced to Gretchen, the hairstyle model mannequin head you'll see below. One of the group had brought her as a gag, so it showed up in many startling places. She was given to me to take care of for a while, so when it came time for art camping, I brought her along. She was seat-belted for safety.

We spent some time at the lake, which always inspires me. The vast peacefulness of the lake always speaks to me- to my soul somehow.

One of our old art major friends is a mom now, and she and her husband brought their little guy along for the ride. He was quite a trooper. Here "uncle Dan" babysits for a bit on the beach.

Gretchen again.

The camping was good and the company was great. I'm so glad to still be in touch with this gang,

So that was my last update for my 2015 summer of camping- 5 camping trips plus a 10 day camping/working adventure in Nepal. I'd say I did pretty well, but I can always do more! The weather is warming up and I'm starting to feel that familiar pull. Time for camping! God is good.

Monday, April 11, 2016

My Adventure in Nepal

As I introduced in an earlier post- I went to Nepal! It was an incredible experience, and I need to do it justice with this post. Might want to freshen up your iced tea or get some popcorn, this will be a long post.

Traveling to Nepal was the first challenge. We left for the airport at 3:30am. Once there, we waited around for a couple of hours for our first flight to leave. The sun was up when we landed in Philadelphia. Next was our 14 hour flight to Doha, Qatar. Then we had a final 5 hour flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. Saying the flight was long is an understatement. The jet lag was real. Kathmandu has the smallest international airport I had ever seen. It was a long day/night/whatever, but we had made it.

We spent the afternoon/evening in Kathmandu. We wandered through the streets for dinner (pizza- our last taste of western food) and looked at the various expedition shops- you could get amazing deals on North Face gear.

Signs of destruction were everywhere. One building had partially collapsed and fallen against another, so it was being held away from the other building by cables anchored in the ground (pictured below). But this damage was minimal compared to what we saw later.

The view from the roof was the first of many breathtaking views. Dale was my roommate for our hotel stays and the two of us found we had a 3rd roommate that night- a cockroach. After capturing the intruder, we attempted to set him free outside the ledge of our window, but accidentally set him free to fall 4 stories to the ground. But cockroaches are tough, right?

We pretended to have not found a cockroach in order to sleep peacefully that night.

The following morning we packed up the trucks with our gear and headed out. We each had our own big bag for personal gear, then each of us was responsible for a big duffle with our tents, sleeping bags and mats, and various tools for the work to be done. 

As we went further into the mountains where we were to work, we discovered more destruction. This is where we started to get a feel for the plight of people. I have some friends who were in Nepal a year before us, and they spoke of the beauty of the colorful buildings and towns through the mountains, but little was left of what I'm sure were lovely villages.

As we got closer to our campsite we also got closer to the epicenter. Rubble was ever present as we walked the streets. Life for these people was continuing on, but everywhere you looked were reminders of the damage and loss of life.

At one point we drove across a stretch of road that was completely rock/rubble. One of our partners in Nepal informed me that this was the biggest landslide in the area. The rock that we drove on had been a whole section of the mountain, and had crushed the town below. The road was the only way in or out of the villages further in, so they cleared what they could off of the top, then just made a new "road" over the landslide- and the town underneath. That sad and sobering thought stuck with me. You can hear in the video below that they estimate 250-300 lives were claimed in that area.

The mountains where we camped were terraced for farming (and safety, I believe). There weren't a lot of large flat areas to camp, so our tents were packed tight in against each other. We discovered the days would be very hot (I'd guess in the high 90s for most of our days) and the nights would be rainy (and maybe high 70s). We were generously fed by our kind hosts for all meals while we were in the area of Barabise. They gave us plates with large portions of rice, curry vegetables with potatoes, lentil soup (which was poured over the rice), fresh vegetables and sometimes eggs. Chicken was also served a couple of times.

There were chickens everywhere- all roaming where they pleased. The people of these mountains also kept goats. And, to my surprise, corn grew everywhere. I had considered corn a very western thing. They were a self-sufficient people, as far as I could tell. Their water came from freshwater springs, their rice/vegetables/chickens were local. They live simple but happy lives.

At one point when talking to one of our guides about the destruction of these homes, I was told that these people were not considered to be very poor. Before the earthquake and landslides, these people had beautiful homes. Their homes were perhaps small and simple, but beautiful. I was sad to have not known Nepal before the earthquakes. Before we left, I informed my bank that I would be out of the country, and that I may be using my card while there. I spoke to a banker who was (I believe) Indian. She reminisced about what a beautiful place Nepal (and specifically Kathmandu) had been in her youth. She was saddened, of course, by Nepal's plight, but thrilled that groups like my own were going to help.

In order to avoid any kind of stomach illness or disease we could not drink the local water. We filtered our water through a gravity system- and we filtered a lot. I estimate that I alone drank 5 or 6 liters of water a day on average. Maybe more... we just guzzled it. Coca-Cola was in shops in Kathmandu, and even at a little shop underneath a cell signal tower on the mountain in Barabise. So we occasionally had some coke as a treat- on the mountain a coke cost $.25 - I was amazed.

Someone had donated soccer balls to the church, so we were asked to distribute the soccer balls to our Nepalese partners for the children of that area. Our partner suggested we donate them to the 2 schools in the area. The "schools" were in rough shape. Below you can see the picture of one of the old school buildings, destroyed by the earthquake, which forced them to meet outside under draped cloth. The kids were thrilled with the soccer balls, so much so that several of them were stolen out of our tents while we were at a worksite.

Our group bonded with the kids a lot. We helped build a lot of structures for families to live in, but we also spent a lot of time talking to the children of the villages.

We brought a lot of tools to use then leave behind for the locals, but they often preferred to use their improvised tools. Notice below the improvised saw on the stone. A handsaw had broken, so they had adjusted it with the handle from another saw to work the reverse direction.

This little one really bonded with Dale, one of our guys.

Each building site called for a different plan. The sizes of the houses and the materials used were different based on the needs of the homeowner and the availability of resources.

Local people often showed up at the worksites to watch us work and talk to us.

The nature of the mountainous terrain meant that space was often cramped. We put a roof on the house below with goats underfoot.

Most of the houses were 90% bamboo construction. Bamboo uprights and bamboo cross pieces with bamboo "cord" to tie them up.

Though the shelters we made were not meant to be permanent homes, the roofs we provided were corrugated steel, meant to last a long time. We were told that people would be living in these shelters short term, until they could build better ones, however "short term" could mean a matter of years.

In the back of this shot you can see the little shop where we bought warm Coca-Cola for $.25 a couple of times while we were working in this area. There is also a cell tower on top of the building- i was surprised to find that almost everyone had cell phones- though the electricity wasn't always reliable for charging them.

On a couple of occasions, we were joined on the worksite by the area's local engineer, a friendly woman who warmed up to Dale, despite the language barrier (pictured below).

Several of our group brought camping hammocks along, and we set them up as a nice break from the heat and work of the long days. What we hadn't expected, though, was that the kids would go so crazy for them.

Along the road to and from our campsite we stopped to eat at this little roadside restaurant. They cooked everything in this outside kitchen area over a wood fire in a stove made of mud. The staff was very friendly and the food was great. We tried a lot of local favorites here.

We had the great opportunity to sit in on a church service with local believers who welcomed us with open arms. There wasn't a lot of english in the service, but it was encouraging to see the spirit of worship and thankfulness in these people in spite of their loss.

The nights, as I said, were rainy. But one night in particular was rough. We were camping near the top of a mountainous region and a storm hit. Lightning flashed through the thin material of our tents and thunder shook the ground where we slept. It was the most potential for danger I can remember ever being in.

One day after working, three of us climbed a little ways up the mountain and set up our hammocks. The view was breathtaking. We were greeted by a welcome breeze and some local teens who talked to us for a while. This will stand out as one of the more amazing sensory moments of my life.

One of our partners over there was a young Nepalese man named Yogen (we called him Yogi- as in Yogi Bear- he had been called that by other westerners, but had never seen the cartoon, sadly). He had some first aid training and used the materials from our various first aid kits and some of his own to help treat the local people as much as he could. Here he is bandaging the foot of a young woman from the village who had an old foot injury. The surgeons had put a pin in the front of her foot- it came out of her skin just under one of her toes. What the purpose of the pin was, we couldn't really be sure. But Yogi did his best to help her. Our medical resources were fairly limited, so in a lot of cases, he just gave people some itching cream for everything from irritated skin to sore throats. That's a joke about the sore throats, but he did give it out as a medication when he had nothing else that could help.

The weather worsened over our time there, and the monsoon season was coming on. The decision was made to pull us out of Nepal when the road was cleared of one of the many landslides that happened in our time there. There was a growing fear that we'd end up trapped in the mountains in monsoon season. Once the road was clear we left- a couple days short of our original goal.

I mentioned before that we went through water like crazy- I'd estimate 5 or 6 liters a day for me. We filtered it through a cool camping water filtration setup several times a day in order to refill our bottles. Below you can see one of my veteran bottles next to a crisp new one that I picked up once we were back at the hotel in Kathmandu. 

We did have the opportunity to visit a "monkey temple" in Kathmandu before we headed back to the states. You can see in the following images that the temple took a lot of damage too.

Below you can see workers carrying enormous baskets full of stone and rubble on their backs. We saw people throughout the mountains carrying things in this way- we were all very impressed by their strength and technique.

It was an unforgettable trip. My heart was moved by the plight of these wonderful people. It was heartbreaking to see the devastation there, I'll admit I wasn't really prepared for it, and likely nothing could have prepared me. But I'm even now wondering what I can be doing to help. If you are also interested in helping the people of Nepal financially or in other ways, please let me know and I'll connect you with the right people. Thanks for taking the time to read this! God is good.