Animals

A Prayer for Nepal.

NamasteThree years ago, almost to the day, I was in Nepal. I had traveled there from China, where I’d been visiting Heifer projects, and was supposed to have stopped in Tibet but sadly, I couldn’t get a visa from the Chinese overlords and ended up with five extra days in Kathmandu. kath2To say Kathmandu is an overload for the senses in a vast understatement, particularly since I’d been used to staying in the rural countryside where Heifer projects abound, (and you can’t buy much besides food or hay). But in Kathmandu, there is no end to all the things you could possibly wish to purchase.super cuteSo I walked the endless, crazy streets pockmarked with construction and packed with shops and people….

thread vendor

vendor

rickshaw….visited the holy sites…

The eyes of the Buddha

architecture

krishna…and tried to drink in everything around me.everest-beer-portraitIt wasn’t until I got to the countryside, though, that I felt as if I were really experiencing Nepal. Just getting there was fairly arduous as the steepness of the terrain and vastness of the Himalayas quickly overtake you.

steep

landlocked

girl

Himalayas above the cloudsIt’s almost impossible to imagine people trying to farm here, and yet they do.

Tirtha & Mitha with their water harvest, greenhouses below and new plants.

With a grace, spirit and resilience that is something to behold.

Goma & Saraswoti Mishra, president of WGCC

laughing

Mithu Namaste

wowYesterday, Nepal was hit by the worst earthquake in almost 80 years, with 3,700 already known dead — and I’m beyond worried about the people I met in these villages and in Kathmandu, all the Heifer Nepalese folks working in these projects, and the animals themselves, who  live in even more precariously built structures than the farmers.

at risk


Som & goat

I know we are going to hear a lot about the 17 western climbers who perished on Everest, but I’d like to leave you with some photos of the people of Nepal who are at the heart of this crisis.

Sisterhood is powerful.

baby namaste

Thuli Maya Lama

Shiva Lal Chepang, teacher extraordinaire.

beautiful kids

Who they're fighting for...

Krishna's Mother in Law

Neither does he...

determined

And here is where you can give if you’re so moved: Heifer Nepal Rehabilitation Fund.

Namaste.

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Disaster, Heifer International, Nepal, Philanthropy, Photography, Poverty, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , | 18 Comments

A look back at Cambodia.

wowThe first time I was in Cambodia, in 2005, I disliked it intensely. It was the end of the dry season and the land was parched and brown, as if nothing had ever lived there. My friend Martha and I stayed in a fancy tourist hotel and went outside the resort only to visit the famous temples of Angkor Wat. The heat was so intense, and the beggars & cripples in the streets so aggressive, it sapped my interest in seeing the countryside or meeting the people. Despite the wonders of the temples, it was an unpleasant experience overall, and I never wanted to go back.

Pretty much my tourista view of Cambodia, the first time.

Pretty much my tourista view of Cambodia, the first time.

However, when I went to Cambodia with Heifer last year, it was an entirely different experience. (And this is why you should never hold on to prejudices about countries you’ve only visited briefly — or in an utterly touristy fashion.)

For starters, I met the people I really wanted to get to know.mother & childAnd then there was the fact that everything – and I mean EVERY single living thing– in the countryside was bathed in green. And water. greenCambodia is geographically shaped like a bowl, so in the rainy season, water collects in the center and seeps out everywhere. The rice paddies were swollen with their watery harvest…rice field

…and children everywhere along the road were splashing happily and joyfully in the ubiquitous ponds.picking lotusI got to really talk to the people I met in the villages, and understand some of their tragic history on a deeply personal level.

Pream Sui, survivor of a forced marriage to a Khmer Rouge soldier - and beautiful grandmother.

Pream Sui, survivor of a forced marriage to a Khmer Rouge soldier – and beautiful grandmother.

I saw the work Heifer was doing to mend communities, bring people together to work alongside each other, and heal ancient rivalries with the amazing gift of animals . water buffalo

mom & chickies

pigs

A brood of guinea fowls.

A flock of guinea fowl.

And I came to adore Heifer’s country director, Keo Keang, who traveled with me every day to the villages and towns where Heifer works – and had her own horrific tale of tragedy from the Khmer Rouge days, when her father and sister were murdered. Keo Keang

Despite the severe difficulties this country faces in overcoming its genocidal past, poverty-ridden present, and dubious future, I met so many people filled with a gorgeous spirit of optimism and hope.fisherman

Kuhl Samon, mother of 11, and wife of Chin Chhil, an amputee in the war.

Kuhl Samon, mother of 11, and wife of Chin Chhil, an amputee in the Khmer Rouge civil war.

girls in temple

sweet namasteAnd believe me when I tell you, nothing can make you love a country more than that.lotusFor a look back at my Cambodia posts (and they’re really GOOD!) ..

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/16/haunting-cambodia/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/22/a-song-of-reconciliation/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/25/under-water-but-not-overcome/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/29/i-was-married-to-the-khmer-rouge/

watery road

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Cambodia, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Cameroon, the Remix.

4 girls from Mordok, coming in from the fields.

5 girls from Mordok, coming in from the fields.

Cameroon was easily one of the most fascinating, diverse, disturbing and memorable countries I visited in 2012 with Heifer International…and that’s really saying something.red scarf

My visit started with a minor disaster – we missed our flight from the capital city of Yaoundé up north to Maroua, and there wasn’t another one for 3 days. But as so often happens (if only I had the equanimity to keep this in mind), that accident ended up fortuitously taking me on the road to Douala, where we were able to see 3 other projects that were totally unique to Cameroon: one with snails…

Tangue Jokelt Dieudonne, proud member of Heifer's  Melong GIC with his snails

Tangue Jokelt Dieudonne, proud member of Heifer’s Melong GIC with his snails.

one with pigs …

Cute pigs from the CIG Women's project in Douala

… and one project with cane rats, a rodent I fear with hysterical fervor.

(and don't say that he's more afraid of me than I am of him)

(and don’t try to say that he’s more afraid of me than I am of him)

The south of Cameroon, like Douala, is wet, fertile and steamy….

Banana country!

Banana country!

…unlike the sere, flat and unrelentingly dry L’Extreme Nord. Scorched earth, Maroua

In fact, Cameroon is known as “Africa in miniature” because it contains all the continent’s topography: coast, desert, mountains, rainforest and savanna.

The southerners tend to be short, chubby, affable and primarily Christian…President Emilienne Zikou and VP Denise Nannou, GIC Ndoungue

…while the northerners are tall, lean, reserved and often Muslim.muslim girl

And it is the North that I worry deeply about. Water has always been scarce here, but never more so than now, with climate change prolonging the dry season to almost 11 months a year.mother water

The women of Barza, where Heifer dug a  bore hole, still have to walk about 5 miles each way, every day to secure enough water for their households, and even though men now share the task (thanks to Heifer gender equity trainings!) it’s a grueling, maddening waste of time and energy.woman w water

The people of Cameroon, though, are lovely, particularly in the L’Extreme Nord. As I was watching them one day, I wrote this in my book:

“Poverty isn’t pretty. It’s messy, smelly, sweaty. Filthy water hangs in the gutters of the streets. Old, beat-up things are used to the point of extinction and well beyond.boy and toy

Children in tattered cast-off clothing run barefoot through the dust. holding on

But poor people in Africa are also often heart-wrenchingly beautiful. friends

They rise above the destitution of their surroundings, the women sailing like colorful jibs through the channels of a jumbled market… two beauties…splendid and serene.”

Yes, I loved Cameroon. In fact, I love the energy, faith, colors, strength and smiles of Africa as much as any place I’ve ever been. kids

Who wouldn’t?

~~~~~~~~~~

To read more about the inspiring Heifer projects I visited in Cameroon (including the rats), click below:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/01/bienvenue-cameroon/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/06/poverty-slimed/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/08/hunger-no-games/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/11/dead-hen-walking/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/13/just-add-water/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/06/15/one-womans-nightmare-is-another-mans-dinner/

Categories: Africa, Agriculture, Animals, Cameroon, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, Water, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Re-Namaste Nepal!

sun doors After the rather cold, gray monotony of China’s cities, going to Nepal was like stumbling out into a blaze of riotous sunshine.storefrontI was pretty cranky that I didn’t get to make my planned trip to Tibet (no way is China giving a visa to a western blogger), but it’s hard to hold onto a grudge in Kathmandu. doorBecause of its decades of tourism with trekkers, Kathmandu can seem almost western in its food, shopping and pursuits of pleasure, but right outside the city (and even inside) the essential Nepal comes clearly into view. street lifeFrom the indomitable women who have been working Heifer International programs for the last 25 years and bringing entire communities of powerless wives into economic security…new water buffaloTo the caste system of untouchables who are likewise being included in Heifer projects and given a chance to succeed…

Beautiful Chepang girl, from an untouchable caste.

Beautiful Chepang girl, from an untouchable caste.

To the Hindu temples where cremations take place along the river (with biers divided along caste lines– even after death)..

A fancy sandalwood bier for the Brahmin class

A fancy sandalwood bier for the Brahmin class only.

..and milk is poured down in sacrifice to one of the 44,000 gods.milkNepal boasts all the majesty and mystery of the Himalayans hovering in the distance…

Yup, that's Everest!

Yup, that’s Everest!

…but still struggles with poverty, hunger, a chaotic communist regime, and a highly stratified society. Chepang childAnd yet, Nepal is one of the most lovely, likeable, unforgettable countries I visited.fish pond

A Heifer veterinarian

A Heifer veterinarian

beauty2

Rice fieldI want to go back: to walk the Annapurna circuit, to meet more of the women who so inspired me…

A woman in the cooperative at Shaktikor.

A woman in the cooperative at Shatkikohr.

…and to see more of the work Heifer is doing in this intriguing country.

That's some heifer!

That’s some heifer!

Plus, there are a few folks I need to say Namaste to. covered smileFor more Nepal & more Namaste, click on the posts below:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/29/a-new-namaste/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/26/what-i-ate-in-nepal/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/24/she-works-hard-for-the-money-less/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/21/caste-ing-a-stone-against-prejudice/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/18/goat-ed-into-greatness/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/16/divine-peaks-intransigent-maoists-or-welcome-to-nepal/

Categories: Animals, Heifer International, Hunger, Nepal, Philanthropy, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

China Re-mix.

man w pig2 Having dutifully swallowed all the negative publicity we’ve been served up in this country about China (and added some of my own piquant paranoia) — it began to seem like a place I would never want to go. Solemn Little Beauty

But once I got to China, on my fourth month of traveling for Heifer International, I found it was much like any other place on the planet: filled with beautiful people working hard to make their lives and the lives of their children a little bit easier, sweeter, and more secure.

little princess I spent my time in Sichuan province, in the western part of China. It is a place of big, impersonal cities and lovely contemplative country-sides– but no, I didn’t stop to see any pandas (sigh).landscape

However, I did experience the incredible ethnic groups of the Yi people (the women are intensely fabulous, with headdresses right out of the Witches of Eastwick)…Yi hat

… And I met the kindest, most gentle AIDS mother making a living with her Heifer pigs for her three young children …

Waqi Wunin, my personal heroine

Waqi Wunin, my personal heroine

…and I visited a small village making a big comeback from the terrible earthquake of 2010, despite it being populated almost solely by women my age (probably a good bit younger).

The women of Fuxing & me.

The intrepid women of Fuxing Village & me.

And of course, I was served some totally amazing food – and ate my wimpy vegetarian share of it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn China, I had the unique opportunity to sit down and talk to ordinary rural Chinese people who were struggling to cope with life outside the megalopolis–and whose stories turned out to be riveting.

A circle of trust (and roasted potatoes)

A circle of trust (and roasted potatoes)

I also realized that I wasn’t the only one who was perhaps a little skeptical of the foreigner. skepticalBut more than anything, I had the same epiphany I had in every Heifer country I visited last year — Leader

… that the poverty we don’t see around us is still there … Grand-daughter

… that animals are beautiful and full of potent power to change the trajectory of a family’s life .. that pig

… and there is literally nothing more universally beautiful than a smile.daughterTo follow me through the pages of yesteryear (in China) click on a story:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/30/first-impressions-of-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/02/high-but-not-dry-in-yi-country-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/04/not-exactly-a-tiger-mom/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/07/a-scaredy-cat-taste-of-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/09/a-beautiful-life/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/14/farewell-my-lovely/

Categories: Animals, Children, China, Farming, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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