Life In Kathmandu & A Trip To The Zoo

by Rob Rose, Cub Reporter

This was both an exciting and emotional day for me, as I was going to meet with Namrata Adhikari, her husband Hiralal and her sister Sharda. Both Namrata and her sister are blind and I had sponsored Namrata for her college studies in past years. Now she is married and working as a receptionist at an association for the blind as is her sister, who is at the Helen Keller Institute for the Blind here in Kathmandu. Our lives are lead so differently, both in country and culture and in the fact that I am sighted and she is not. Yet, in many ways, she is like my daughter and we share a deep respect for one another. I have much to learn from her and how she copes with her disability in a place where accomodations, acceptance and assistance are scant.

Namrata and Sharda have three brothers, two of whom are also blind. We took a taxi out to their apartment which is located in Old Kirtipur, about a thirty minute drive from downtown Kathmandu. As I mentioned in a previous e-mail, I don’t fit into many cars here and I feel a bit like a sardine in a can riding in our little Maruti taxi. Compounding my size issue, the roads are small, dusty and appear to be one big pothole!

Now, I’m told that how they live isn’t unusual for Nepal, but it’s somewhat unsettling to find that their entire apartment consists of a one room, about eight by ten feet. Within this room are a two-burner gas stove, several small woven stools, a table with a myriad of items stored underneath, and the bed, again with many things underneath. Clothes hang on the walls, and a few pictures and posters dress up their abode. They are very proud to be having me visit and, as is customary, tea is quickly boiled up and the biscuits brought out. Although they are currently employed as receptionists, Namrata is a classically trained singer who has had some of her songs played on Nepali Radio and Sharda is qualified to be a teacher. Sharda had wanted to teach sighted children and when asked why not just blind children, she replied, “Because it is my right!” These are indeed very strong-willed women, but you have to remember how difficult it is to have a disability and survive here — I think the experience must give them strength.

There are no disabled accommodations here. Sometimes the sidewalks exist, and sometimes they don’t. When sidewalks are there, they are usually uneven, potholed and of varying heights. There are rarely crosswalks and traffic lights, and sometimes people will help them cross the street and sometimes they won’t. Many office buildings don’t have elevators or handicap ramps. To me, it seems like a nightmare, but for those disabled that need to traverse the confusing, crowded, noisy streets and sidewalks, they somehow manage to survive the commotion. This was my last visit with Namrata and her family, so we said our fond farewells and then I headed back into town.

Next, it was off to the zoo to take the disabled kids from the Disabled Newlife Center (DNC) on an outing! In Nepal “Z” is pronounced “J,” so “Zoo” becomes “Joo”! It was a surprise at first — as I’m Jewish — to hear, “How would you like to go see the Jew?” That certainly made me do a double-take! The zoo has really been upgraded and is now quite a nice facility. On this day, many families, couples and children were lining up to get in. My host, Rabendra, who owns a travel and tour company, had sent a bus to pick up the children and bring them to the zoo. The zoo director had prepared a special program for the children, including a short video explaining what they’d be seeing and an animal-filled coloring page for the kids to take back to the center and finish. One of the kids, named Indra, quickly volunteered to carry one of my camera bags with one hand and held tight to my hand with the other. Other kids took turns holding my other hand as we wandered around visiting a nice assortment of animals from lions, tigers and bears, to rhinos, elephants and birds.

After a nice tour through the animals, we sat in a central area and played soccer and frisbee. As Terry Posner I’m sure remembers, one of the children with one leg, Puste, is pretty proficient at soccer, stopping the ball with his crutch and kicking it with only one leg! Several of the older boys asked if they could take some photos with my digital camera, and I agreed. They took some excellent photos! I think that there may be some future portrait competitors for me here in Nepal. I’d better watch out!

After the games, we had some noodle soup at the little zoo cafe. This was kind of a Top Ramen type of soup, but it definitely had some extra bite to it (green chilis!!!). Hot stuff for me, but maybe not hot enough for the locals, as the kid sitting next to me added some more chili powder to it! My only sadness on this day is that it will end all too soon. After finally reconnecting with the children, I will be homeward bound, returning to my friends, family and life in Bellevue.

It’s very difficult to sum up my day; there were so many emotions at play. I enjoyed being with Namrata and her sister, and I loved taking the kids out on their zoo excursion. One part of me is just “in the moment,” taking in the hugs, sights, sounds, joys — the total experience. The other part of me wonders about what the future holds for these children. My own personal goal for them is that they have the same opportunities that other children here have — maybe even more — as I think they’ll need an edge to overcome the societal stigma that comes with having a disability. Many in Nepali society consider a disability to be a curse from God. However, through Rotary and other organizations and volunteers I intend to turn this backward thinking around to instill the belief that those with disabilities can do most any job that the abled can, any job that their disability allows. My hope is that we’ll be able to identify the individual talents of each of these children, whether it’s music, dance, math or science. Then we can provide tutors and mentors to give them the edge they will need to survive and thrive. These kids will be the examples of what the disabled are capable of if only they are given a chance, and our program at this disabled center will be the template that other organizations in Nepal can use to create success in their programs.

The positive news for this organization is that all interested parties are now all working together toward a common goal. Just prior to my departure, we had a meeting of Rotarians, Disabled Center board members, business leaders and volunteers that are supporting the disabled center. We set goals and divided responsibility so that we’ll all be on the same page and won’t be duplicating our efforts. All the groups here are struggling with the political situation, the outcome of which is uncertain. However, our goals are now clear: we must provide what assistance we can for this center and its children.

The Disabled Newlife Center (DNC) is one of three major projects that my wife Gina and I have been working on in Nepal the past few years. The other two are the Nandu Maya Self-Sustaining Orphan Home and the Kathmandu School for the Deaf. When you give to the Rotary Foundation through your yearly contribution and to our own Bellevue Rotary Foundation through our yearly auction efforts you are making an investment in humanity’s future, which with the help of Rotary is a future that looks bright!