Lured by green, in Kathmandu

Green Dilibazar

Photo: Marty Logan

One of Kathmandu’s biggest defects is the lack of green spaces. Luckily I’ve found one. It’s tiny, and certainly not where you would expect it, but its positive impact is huge. In fact, for many years now I’ve been fortunate to enjoy nature in different forms. in many cities.

I wrote more about this in this week’s Nepali Times:

The lure of green

When I’ve had enough of the smog, barking dogs, crowds and cacophony of Kathmandu I seek out my ‘oasis’, a small piece of green real estate that, I’m sure, slows my heartbeat and lowers my blood pressure on sight in — Dilibazar.

Yes, that’s right, Dilibazar, one of the oldest suburbs of 20th-century Kathmandu, once known for its sweet shops and the derelict Charkhal Jail, but today recognisable by the educational consultancies and their billboards — ‘Study in Australia, Canada, Cyprus, England, Greece, Ireland! — that have spilled onto its streets from Putali Sadak. It’s definitely not the first place that comes to mind when you think of Kathmandu and nature.

My paradise is small and tranquil, wild but constrained by the boundaries of private property. On its fringes is an old, intact Nepali brick house and surrounding it 1960s-vintage concrete homes, one of them belonging to my in-laws. It is from my sasurali, the dining room windows to be precise, that I gaze onto the neighbours’ pocket-sized ‘jungle’ with its plum, pomegranate, pecan and avocado trees, small copse of bamboo and a barely visible path, fringed by wild flowers in warmer months, which passes by a tiny temple.

If I step back slowly from the dining-room window, holding my gaze, I soon reach a point where the brown frame is filled with green only. Marvelling, I approach again, push open the glass and breathe deeply, in wonder that this tiny piece of nature remains and can draw me so strongly, while all around it the concrete jungle grows.

Trees = health

Research in recent years has tried to quantify how trees affect human health. By filtering air pollution, trees averted $6.8 million yearly in health costs in the US, a 2014 study in the journal Environmental Pollution found. In Toronto, having 10 more trees than average on a street was comparable to a $10,000 increase in personal income, and moving to an area with a $10,000 higher median income or being 7 years younger.

Nature has long drawn me. When I was about 10, my family spent the weekend on an island a short boat ride away from our town. While the adults talked inside, I wandered away, towards the ocean, hopping from stone to stone to avoid the mud and pools of water left behind by the retreating tide.

Bending to peer into one of those tidepools an entire, tiny world emerged: orange crabs crawled out from under stones, the movement sending up miniature clouds of sand that obscured the scuttling crustaceans. Tiny fish darted, and the long-legged bugs we called ‘water skimmers’ zoomed across the surface. It was only when I heard a voice calling me that I realised I had been lost in my new world — until my brother arrived to make sure I had not passed out, or worse.

Years later, an earnest student in Vancouver, I passed far too many hours peering into books under the stark lights of university rooms, but then waiting for the night bus to take me home I would fall under the spell of a row of giant poplar trees that on windy nights swayed in the street-lit shadows above, their leaves rustling like running water.

A splendid camphor

Fast forward to our first move to Kathmandu, searching for an apartment. We turned the corner of a galli not far from the Charkhal Jail and a magnificent camphor tree rose at the T-junction ahead. I knew then that I wanted to live on that alley, and soon after we signed the contract.

Back in Toronto seven years later, we were visiting another possible rental in the heart of Canada’s biggest city. At one end of the delightfully long apartment was a former balcony, converted into a room for four-season living. Outside its huge windows a stand of maple trees rose above the parking lot. Here’s a future office, I thought, and we were lucky enough to rent that apartment too.

Today, I am again fortunate to live in a relatively green section of Kathmandu, with a backyard that hosts guava, mango, avocado, and other fruit trees. Unless the neighbourhood dogs are yapping, birdsong wakes me in the morning and frogs call insistently after a nighttime monsoon rain.

I have been luckier than most people to live so often next to nature, which bestows enormous benefits often in small, simple ways. I could spend hours soaking in my Dilibazar jungle, but I get the same pleasure from hearing raindrops hit the leaves of the trees outside my open window.

Postscript: The owner of the Dilibazar jewel died in mid-August, before I could go and ask how he managed to preserve a natural paradise amid the steadily shrinking ‘empty’ spaces of the neighbourhood. I dedicate this article to that man I never met, for withstanding the pressure to sell out and cash in.

I am not exactly sure what motivated him to conserve his patch of land, but hearing that just before he died he had asked one of his children to bring him seedlings from overseas, I’m confident it went beyond simply keeping the valuable property in the family.

Freak me out!

Far_Out_review_NTimes_coverI haven’t written many book reviews, but this read was so interesting that I was happy to do it. Called Far Out: Countercultural Seekers and the Tourism Encounter in Nepal, it describes and analyses tourism in Nepal from its infancy till the mid-2010s.

But author Mark Liechty delivers his material with a light touch, thanks to loads of anecdotes and quotations, from both travellers and Nepalis.

As you might have guessed from my headline, much of the book looks at the hippie era in Nepal, but the story begins much earlier, and features some memorable characters.

Here’s my full review in last week’s Nepali Times: Continue reading

Missing and murdered in Canada

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Shae-Lyn McAllister is the fourth women to go missing from Robyn Lawson’s family in Canada since 1988.

On 25 August Robyn Lawson posted on Twitter that three women in her family had disappeared in Canada in the last three years. Robyn is Indigenous, one of about 1.6 million Indigenous people in Canada (5% of the population).

In June, the report of a national inquiry found:

“First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women and girls and (LGBTQI) people in Canada … have been the targets of violence for far too long. This truth is undeniable … (and) amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, which especially targets women.”

I have read much over the years about the experiences of Indigenous People living in Canada (and written about some of them in this blog and beyond). But Robyn’s tweet hit me hard — it’s difficult to imagine three people disappearing from my family.

I wrote and asked Robyn, who is an activist for Indigenous people’s rights, to describe those incidents and the broader context of the lives of Indigenous women and girls in Canada. Her powerful, authoritative answers, lightly edited by me, are below.

Can you tell me about the 3 women in your family that you Tweeted about — they all went missing in the last 3 years?

There were actually four that went missing within my family, all cousins. The fourth went missing in 1988 from a Cultus Lake campground in British Columbia (province) after she accepted a ride that was to take her home to Surrey, BC. She has never been found. Her name is Roberta Ferguson, and she was 19 years old at the time she was taken.
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UN rights experts critique Nepal again

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A tree blocks a road near Butwal, Nepal during the Maoist conflict in 2005. Photo: Marty Logan

United Nations experts have critiqued draft changes to the Nepal law on the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), says an editorial in this week’s Nepali Times.

In April, the experts from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, known as ‘special procedures’, took the Nepal Government to task for its slow, faulty progress in transitional justice. This time, their letter focuses on three proposals for the NHRC Act:

  1. Giving the attorney-general the power to approve the NHRC’s investigations
  2. Barring the institution from receiving any funding external to its government budget
  3. Preventing the NHRC from opening regional of sub-regional offices.

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Asia to go dry – or be submerged

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Bhutanese politician Tshering Togbay holds up a copy of the ICIMOD assessment that predicts 2/3 of glaciers in the Hindu-Kush mountains will melt by 2100 if current global warming continues.

This short TED talk is a short, clear description of why everyone in the world should care that Mt Everest and its neighbours are melting.

Hint: the Hindu-Kush mountains are also known as the 3rd Pole, and the water that flows from them nourishes the lives of more than 2 billion people in Asia.

Tshering Togbay, a politician from Bhutan, presents a scary scenario here but as he makes clear, inaction is not an option.

His suggestion is to create a new body of all the governments in the Hindu-Kush, with particularly active involvement from giants – and major greenhouse gas producers – China and India. It’s easy to dismiss yet another government ‘talk shop’ but if the leaders of countries at risk won’t take action, who will?

Shorter, not fatter

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A child eating at a Mother’s Group meeting devoted to nutritious feeding, in Nepal’s Achham district in 2018. Photo: Marty Logan

A study finding that infants in Kathmandu are getting 25% of their calories from junk foods was a major talking point in Nepal last week.

Looking at the article in The Journal of Nutrition, it is also surprising that among the 700 or so kids studied, the group who ate the most junk food were shorter than the average, not fatter as might be expected.

Shorter than average is a description of stunting, a major marker of childhood malnutrition. Decades ago Nepal had extremely high rates of stunting, which is also an indicator of a country’s development, but managed to reduce it greatly. Still, the country is not on track to meet the 2030 target of the Sustainable Development Goals: 15% of children under 5 stunted.

Below is my article published today in Nepali Times, online.

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Nepal has greater heights to scale than Mt Everest

WASH_Achham_Marty_Logan_2018As the ‘custodian’ of Mt Everest, the Nepal Government must make changes to how it manages the precious global resource. But far below, leaders are struggling to overcome other obstacles that block the country’s graduation from least-developing country status.

Earlier this month a National Geographic team set up the world’s highest weather station, very close to the peak of Mt Everest. Its purpose is to monitor the Central Asian Jet Stream, to see how winds and moisture move above 29,000 feet and affect the warming climate. In effect the multinational team has also opened a window to the land where glaciers are born.

With great potential for gleaning information about this much celebrated, increasingly exploited, but little known environment, the weather stations are a exciting advance. Yet you get the feeling that the die is already cast: like its neighbours in the Himalaya Hindu-Kush (HKH) range, Everest is melting.

2/3 of glaciers could melt by 2100

The worst-case scenario in a recent assessment predicts that two-thirds of glaciers in the HKH, which spans from Afghanistan to China, will melt by 2100. Earlier last week another team of scientists announced  they found the internal temperatures of the Khumbu glacier on Everest to be higher than expected, just -3.3C. They predicted accelerated melting in the short term, followed by flooding, droughts and unstable, dangerous conditions for climbers.

This climate peril illustrates the double-barrel challenge facing countries like Nepal: they must provide the basics expected from an increasingly wealthy, globally-savvy population — such as infrastructure, health and education — and at the same time confront global threats like the climate crisis and deadly non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that bedevil rich and poor countries alike. Continue reading