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I arrived in Kathmandu without plans
4 minute read.
Two hours before arriving in Kathmandu, I opened a guidebook for the first time. I was flying into Nepal and would depart from India. My plan was to not have plans, adapting each day based on people I met and lessons I learned.
I’ve traveled this way for 30 years: fly into one country, out of another, hiking across borders and meeting people along the way. This trip marked my having traveled through 1 out of 4 countries on Earth. Most have been what we call “third world” countries, providing insights into healthcare, education, and sustainability on our shared planet.
Introduction to Kathmandu
I learned that Nepal was recovering from an earthquake. 9,000 people had died; this was after a ten-year civil war killed 19,000 and displaced 200,000. That explained my cheap plane ticket.
In Kathmandu, workers repaired buildings while people enjoyed their city’s safe-zones. Only some of Kathmandu’s earthquake repair work was in”child-labor free zones.” That’s as bad as it sounds, is a problem in developing countries, and part of why I’m expanding my work in healthcare and education to include global equity. This blog is a step towards that direction.
Sleeping in a monastery
Monks at Benchen Monastery operate a guesthouse, using revenue to fund a free health-clinic that treats 60 to 80 people per day. My room was more comfortable than many hotels in Kathmandu, and cost 600 Rupees ($6 U.S.) I’d explore the city each day, and read or chat with monks at night.
Benchen functions like a sustainable social business, benefiting society by being profitable enough to sustain themselves. Sustainable businesses are vital to the people of Nepal, who lack social services and equitable education because of a poor government. Benchen Monastery is one of the few places in Kathmandu with trash and recycling bins, and they operate a small vegetarian cafe to provide healthy food at a price most people can afford; breakfast cost 80 Rupees.
I could walk from the monastery to explore the old city, where workers pushed supplies through narrow streets that weaved between temples. People rotated prayer-wheels as they walked around the temples, an ancient ritual that helps be mindful of the moment.
The caste system
People dedicated to spirituality sat near temples while street-workers sewed strands of flowers all day. People on their way to or from work purchased strands of flowers to leave as temple offerings. All three groups were doing their duty, which had been dictated by their social caste.
In the caste system, you do the work your father did, who did the work of his father. Your children will do your work.
You can not marry outside of your caste. Your name includes the work you can do; I’d be Jason Ian Partin-Engineer. (Not really; if I did my family’s work, I’d be Jason Ian Partin-Prisoner.)
The caste system has been Hindu doctrine for almost 4,000 years, and was Nepali law until recently. Millions of people are hoping to change the lingering effects of a caste system. This isn’t unique to Hinduism; in the United States, we’re hoping to overcome the lingering effects of slavery.
Many Nepali workers wore hats with the “OBEY” logo, which led me to thinking about Hope, Happiness, & Socio-Economics. A change for global equity must go beyond “giving jobs” and provide long-term sustainability, especially in a world where almost all jobs will soon be obsolete. The future of education will have to evolve from job training to innovation and personal happiness.
Helping kids overcome the effects of unjust socio-economics requires equitable education. “Equitable” means to give a bit more to people who start with less, and to ensure that education techniques are personalized for the unique needs of each student.
Today, success requires skills in communication and innovation; in the near-future, success will require skills entrepreneurship. In Kathmandu, I helped students develop communication skills and techniques for entrepreneurship using collaborative-learning and design-thinking.
Guidelines for co-learning are:
Be their equalCreate a culture where everyone helps each otherMonitor and guide everyone’s progress
Guidelines for design thinking are:
Empathize with your customerPrototype an ideaTest your idea with customersImprove your ideaRepeat
The kids taught me Nepali phrases; I helped them develop public-speaking skills through sleight-of-hand magic. Seriously! Learning magic helps overcome fear of failure; you have fun, practice in front of people, and improve based on what you learn. Designing new magic tricks uses design-thinking, which is a step towards innovation and entrepreneurship. Looking up new techniques uses internet search skills, and performing increases communication skills. Plus, it’s fun.
Street-artists practiced their craft on modern buildings in the newer parts of Kathmandu. Art was painted; political graffiti was stenciled; messages were hashtags.
GKC is a Nepali orthopedic surgeon who advocates equitable healthcare and education. He provides free healthcare to rural villages and has become a symbol for the people in Nepal who believe that inequity must stop. When GKC was asked his top three priorities, he only gave two: service to patients, and service to students.
I chatted with monks or read books from the monastery’s library every night. On my last day, I hiked to The Monkey Temple, which had overlooked the city of Kathmandu for thousands of years, to relax by reading.
I had decided to leave Kathmandu the next morning; I’d attempt to hike over the Himalaya Mountains. My doctors have prescribed pain medications to postpone surgery. I decided to stop taking them, feeling they numbed my mind without solving the cause of suffering, and had been practicing using mindfulness instead of medication.
I posted this blog in February, 2018, a week before my friend and rock-climbing partner, John Seroki, died in an airplane crash. He was an engineer and orthopedic surgeon who worked with Doctors Without Borders to provide free healthcare in developing countries, including Nepal. We miss you, John.
John, ahead of me on the trail to Bear Creek Spire, Eastern Sierra Mountains.