What to do in Kathmandu: 10th Asian Documentary Film Festival on now!

in children, documentaries, Film South Asia 2015, Nepal, Uncategorized, What to do in Kathmandu | No Comments »

film south asia 2015

Today I was invited to attend the opening of Film South Asia 2015, a South Asian documentary Film Festival that is held every two years. As we all took our seats in the cozy theater, there was an announcement, “In the likely event of a tremor, there are two emergency exits there, and there.” This was greeted by a wave of laughter; I’m not sure if “in the unlikely event” was meant to be humorous or not, but this morning at 10 am there was a 5.3 tremor here in Kathmandu, the first one I’ve personally felt in a while, and I’m sure it was on everyone’s mind. While it wasn’t that strong, it seemed quite long. More about it here.

The documentary screened at the opening was Drawing the Tiger, directed by Ramyata Limbu, Amy Benson and Scott Squire, and filmed here in Nepal over a period of seven years. The film follows a young girl from Ramechhap District who comes to Kathmandu to pursue her education, and the ripple effect this action has on her entire family. I am glad I didn’t know much more than that when I sat down, as the film was a beautiful and moving experience, including an emotional sucker-punch I was not expecting, perhaps extra difficult for me as I also have the Humla girls I’m helping to educate so it hit really close to home. If you have a chance to see this film, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough: it’s a simple, honest piece and a great sample of ‘show, don’t tell.’ Even documentaries sometimes get carried away in trying to make a point via omnipresent narrator or other methods, but despite the subject matter, this film did nothing of the sort. The only people you heard from were each of the family members involved, and the result was touching, honest, and surprisingly revealing. More about the film at its website here, though be warned that it also tells quite a bit about the story that I was glad I didn’t know ahead of time.

The festival continues for three full days: tomorrow, Friday November 20th, Saturday the 21st and Sunday the 22cond. It’s being held at Yala Maya Kendra, Patan Dhoka, in Lalitpur, with between 8 to 15 documentaries of various lengths being screened on each of the three days. Each film costs just 50 rs. to attend, and are from all over the region–Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and of course, Nepal. The screenings begin around 10 am each day and continue to 5 or 6. For details of which films are shown on which days, you can check out their website, http://www.filmsouthasia.org; unfortunately I had a hard time accessing the site and if you do too, you can click on the high-res picture I took of my programme below to embiggen it and see what the choices and timings are. This is a really great chance to see some of the best recent documentaries from this part of the world and I recommend that if you’re in Kathmandu you take full advantage of it!

And with the fuel crisis and shortages unfortunately still in full swing, the organizers have added a special festival motto: “Walk, bike or take a public bus to the Doc Fest!”



When the fuel runs out, you get a bicycle

in daily life, fuel crisis, Nepal | No Comments »


I imagine that for many of you who read this, it’s hard to imagine living in a country that is almost completely dependent upon its neighbours for most basic necessities. But that’s Nepal — landlocked, we share borders with only India and China, and that northern border is pretty much the Himalayas, with only one narrow road in. So, much of what we need–and all fuel/petroleum products–come in through the Terai, from India. When the new constitution–years in the making–was finally ratified over a month ago now, it triggered protests in the south and a near complete border closure from India. We kept thinking that things had to get better, any minute now, but they haven’t; they’ve only gotten worse. Gas bottles, petrol, diesel, kerosene–none of this is available to buy, unless you are one of those who can afford to pay the black market prices, which friends tell me run at 5-10 times the normal rate. And of course, the people that suffer the most are the poor, particularly those who have been affected by the earthquake. Any appliances that can be used for electric cooking are flying off the shelves, and even here in Kathmandu I see people cooking on the sidewalk using firewood.

By comparison, I’ve been fortunate, so far just inconvenienced and not suffering, as so many are. I’m pretty used to short-term shortages, so I always keep a little bit of petrol saved for my scooter, but as I want to keep that for emergencies, I just bought a cheap bicycle (possibly too cheap, it already rattles :) ) and, looking on the bright side, it’s helping me get some exercise. I’m not sure how much cooking gas is left in the my cylinder, and my spare is empty, as I changed it right when the shortage first began last month and have been unable to refill it since. But I do have an old but trusty little electric oven and a kettle, and I’m experimenting with how much I can do without having to turn on a gas burner. When I go out, if a restaurant is open, I eat there — the new logic of “eat out, save your gas” overriding the former logic of “eat at home, save money.” And besides, I figure they could use the business. But every day, more and more businesses of all sorts are staying closed when they can’t find the supplies to stay open. And now shops are starting to run out of certain things, too, because the vehicles that usually supply them don’t have petrol to move around, either.

Winter Is Coming, and that means the ubiquitous long power cuts that will rule out the oven and kettle, and no kerosene for heating. I haven’t wanted to write about this, because I feel like there’s been so much bad news out of Nepal lately that I hate to add to it.

As always, I am amazed by the cheerfulness and resilience of those around me. But they deserve better, and I can only hope the end is in sight.

And here’s a picture of a baby goat I saw the other day when visiting a friend, because it’s adorable and makes me smile.


A Simple Curry of Leafy Greens and Soybeans

in Food, recipes, Vegetables | No Comments »

A few weeks ago a wonderful friend — who is always trying to feed me — gave me a container to take home. It was full of a delicious and unusual “spinach” and soybean curry. And then when the neighborhood lady who regularly shows up at my gate with little bits of vegetables to sell  came with a bag of greens and soybeans, I decided to try to recreate it. She is really friendly and what she brings is always so cheap, I pretty much buy whatever it is, even if I have no real plan of how to use it. Actual spinach is rarely found in Nepal — rather, all greens are called saag, and can be the leafy part of pretty much anything edible. I think what she brought me was mustard greens, but I’m not completely sure. You can use any green leafy vegetable you have to hand, but this is best with smaller and slightly more bitter greens. The most time consuming part of making this was shelling the soybeans – if you can get them preshelled where you are, more power to you. This is a lighter curry, a kind you often get here in Nepal, as opposed the heavier, saucier type some people might be used to thinking of as a curry. The original dish had no potato, but I had one lonely one on my counter that needed to be used and I like potatoes in my curry so I added one – but you don’t have to.

A Simple Curry of Leafy Greens and Soybeans

500 grams/ 1 lb greens of your choice

250 grams/ 8 oz soybeans

1 medium red onion

3 – 4 cloves of garlic

2-3 plum tomatoes

1 medium potato

1 heaping teaspoon of cumin (jeera in Nepali)

pinch of cinnamon

several whole dried chilies, to taste (or chili flakes)

half a vegetable or chicken stock cube

salt to taste

oil for frying

Parboil the soybeans and shell them. This is best done while listening to an audiobook or watching TV so that you won’t notice how slowly the beans are accumulating. If you get too bored, boil twice the amount and eat half of them Japanese style (edamame) as you shell. :)

Wash the greens well to remove any grit and lose the roots, if there are any. Roughly chop if the leaves are large.

Chop the onions and garlic and fry for a minute or so. Add the cumin, salt, pinch of cinnamon and the dried chilies. If you don’t have whole ones, you can use a pinch of chili flakes.

Cut the potato into small cubes so it will cook quicker and let it fry with everything for a few minutes while you chop the tomatoes, then add them to the pan, and let everything cook together for a minute or two more. Then add the greens and soybeans and stir well, and crumble in the half a stock cube. Cover and let cook over medium-low heat until the potatoes (if using) and greens are done — it depends what kind you are using, some greens can be rather tough. You might need to add a splash of water to loosen things up and help everything cook, but see how much liquid your tomatoes and greens give off first.

I served this over brown rice and topped it with a fried egg, but it would also be good with rotis or other flatbread. This is enough for two people if you eat it as a main meal like I did, or four people as a side dish. It reheats well and I happily enjoyed it for several days.


DIY cooler…

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When your fridge has been in the repair shop for nearly two weeks and you really want a cold beer – a sturdy garden bucket sure comes in handy… :)

Ghosts on Everest reprint

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ECS Nepal published a reprint of my article Ghosts on Everest in their first post-earthquake issue (July/August) which came out this month. It’s something I wrote years ago and while I sincerely hope my writing has improved since then it’s an article that is still really close to my heart. It originally ran in their March 2011 issue, and they asked me edit it a little to tie it in with the hope that things there will soon be normal and people can do treks like the Everest Base Camp again. And unlike the Langtang area, which has been sadly devastated, it does seem that the Everest area is up and running–both for climbing and trekking–in time for this autumn’s tourist season. Now we just have to hope the tourists come. If you’re interested, the original article is archived here.


in daily life, earthquake, Kathmandu | No Comments »

Yesterday morning the house rattled; a small surprise. I haven’t felt an aftershock in some time now. While it was a small tremor–only 4.3–it’s a little worrying that its epicentre was Kalimati, right in the heart of Kathmandu. According to the National Seismological Center, 376 aftershocks measuring above 4 on the Richter scale have been recorded since April 25th. And of course that doesn’t count the hundreds of little ones that come in under 4. I join everyone else in the country in hoping and praying that the worst is well behind us, not still to come. New data released last week, which you can read about in this BBC article here, isn’t exactly cheerful, but everywhere I go I see optimism, hard work, rebuilding. To quote the phrase I’ve seen being used everywhere from street art to billboard advertisements: We Will Rise Again.

And now for something completely different…

in baya weaver, birds of the Kathmandu Valley, daily life, Nepal | No Comments »

Nepal has a crazy amazing variety of birds — nearly a tenth of the known birds in the world are represented in this diminutive strip of land. And while I’ve seen some beautiful birds in my years here, since moving to this house last September, I’ve begun to think I might have landed right in the middle of in a bird sanctuary!

I inherited my trusty guide, Birds of Nepal (Fleming, Fleming, & Bangdel: 2000), from a previous housemate, and it is wonderful. While  some drawings  occasionally don’t resemble the birds quite as much as they could, where it really shines is in the area of providing relevant detail that helps to identify the birds described. The Fleming father-son ornithological team have seen 97% of the birds in the book in the field themselves, and they fill their descriptions with specifics and pointers that make identification easier for a newb like me.

I’ve not been able to get many good pictures of the birds I’ve seen, but earlier this week I spotted a cluster of nests in the bamboo grove just down the road from me.


They turned out to be baya weavers. Common to Nepal, a first for me!



Time to Stand Tall

in Food, Kathmandu, Nepal, restaurants | No Comments »

Friday stand tall

… that’s what’s on the cover of the first issue of Friday! to come out since the earthquake on April 25th. It’s normally a weekly, but it’ll take a while to get back into a regular publishing groove, so this one is still on newsstands. It’s got some great photos of historical sites as well as memories and post-earthquake thoughts from a wide variety of sources, so if you’re in Kathmandu it’s well worth picking up a copy. In the interests of full disclosure :) I should tell you there’s an article of mine in there as well, found online here, about restaurants reopening after the quake. I was asked to write it about ten days after the first one, but the second quake pushed the printing later, so it didn’t come out until after that. It touches on a subject close to my heart–the power of food to nurture, comfort and heal, even in the aftermath of terrible tragedy.



Celebrate the moments

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After experiencing the big quake on the 25, plus a nearly-as-big-one two weeks later, not to mention hundreds of aftershocks in between and since (we had a sizeable one just after 10 pm last night), one thing has stuck with me big-time. Enjoy the moments. Take every chance to celebrate life and living, especially opportunities that arise to do this with the people you care about.

Yesterday we celebrated Sadiksha’s birthday, and boy did we have a good time. Hope you enjoy the pictures even a fraction as much as we enjoyed living them, and wherever you are, take time to celebrate and this moment with those you love.


An extra-special birthday dahl-bhat lunch…



If you’re wondering what we ate, this is my plate (note that it’s smaller than Sadiksha’s, and she’s the baby around here!): Rice with peas topped with mildly curried beans instead of the usual daily lentils, a mixed vegetable curry, a fantastic mushroom curry, alu (potato) achar, and chicken curry – Yum!



Then we spent a couple a couple of hours working on a new puzzle, one of our favourite group activities…



…interrupted by a break for  CUPCAKES, a first for the girls. I’d promised the girls I’d try to find some for them after we finished our last puzzle, which was of thirty-six cupcakes :) and amazingly, I managed to find a bakery that had some yesterday morning!



It was a wonderful, wonderful day–we hope yours is, too!