I’d never seen him live or listened to his music. But I recognised the name and the made up face. I couldn’t have missed the news of his death had I wanted to. The coverage was huge – not just on my facebook page with numerous memes and heartfelt RIPs– but on the BBC and in all the newspapers. How had I missed the musical contribution of this enormously gifted man? A genius! Better late than never you tube: I start with Space Oddity: Is this a nod to Space Odyssey and Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra? OK. That is unfair. I’m beginning to sound prejudiced. But Kurt Masur died December 19, 2015 with a barely heard fond whisper of sadness at his passing and about the same for Pierre Boulez who died just two days ago.
Absolute Beginners, Ziggie Stardust, Starman, Lazurus, ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore: Not a great voice, banal lyrics, simplistic and repetitive melodies. The back up tracks lack nothing, unless you subscribe to the philosophy that less is more. To discover if repeated exposure to his style is necessary in order to appreciate him, I listened to Absolute Beginners four times and watched the accompanying film-noire styled video that begins with Bowie in trench coat and fedora, miming disgust (he has run out of cigarettes). He crushes the empty package, chucks it, leaving it for the street cleaner to pick up next morning. May he rest in peace. I have nothing against the man, and to be clear, my own musical efforts are mediocre to risible. I’m deeply curious though about the outpouring of grief at Bowie’s demise and his sudden elevation to icon for the age. And how did I live without him?
One survivor tweeted:
If you’re ever sad just remember the world is 4.543 billion years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.
Yes. No doubt that thought will see me through my annual winter depression.
And there are quotes – ideas and thoughts that David Bowie actually expressed!
Don’t you love the Oxford Dictionary? When I first read it I thought it was a really long poem about everything.
I say stupid things too. About one hundred times a day. And while we’re on the topic — please don’t quote me after I’m dead.
I find myself drawn to the daily news like a blow fly to a freshly steaming heap of excrement. I’m wearing my seasonal outfit, a thick blanket of fog. It suggested itself to me at the beginning of October as a substitute for any and all of my happier wardrobe options. While my senses are acutely attuned to the plastic geegaws, shiny baubles and jingle bell muzak designed to draw shoppers to the high street, I’m not at all tempted. No. I’m in the mood to pick through reports of atrocities in the Middle East, terrorist plots and attacks, yet another mass shooting in the USA.
Only a week ago we were in Soller, Mallorca — sunshine, trees laden with oranges and lemons, warm weather, walks; fresh vegetables, fruit, and local delicacies to be had cheaply at the market. Sunshine and exercise are antidotes to depression. So is food. I can shop for it, cook it, serve it and eat it.
Mallorca Cathedral’s chapel of the Holy Sacrament celebrates food.
The cathedral as a whole is a splendid French Gothic affair, all but one of its chapels glittering with gilt ormolu tracings, magnificent statuary and paintings — the whole lit from lofty many-coloured rose windows. The subtle play of light is augmented by Gaudi’s electric lanterns.
Miquel Barcelo’s Holy Sacrament chapel is in the apse to the right of the high altar. At first glance it’s a startlingly crude piece of work. A large terracotta cave. But under water. Seaweeds deck the windows and walls. It is a painting where clay sculpture erupts from the canvas. A huge clay diorama baked too fast in an enormous kiln so that the clay has developed a pattern of deep cracks. It’s a model of a brain wherein thoughts, fears and desires, take physical form and burst out from the tissue. It’s an atrium of a beating heart or a womb to experience rebirth. You may read its meanings through your own experience, your own prejudices, longings, fears.
The chapel was created for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. In its design Barcelo employed two main motifs, two parables: Jesus feeds the multitude; Jesus turns water to wine at Cana. Loaves and fishes, cabbages, crabs and watermelon, clay vessels for cooking, eating and drinking, are suspended in the walls. Memento mori cry the tumbled skulls. The portrayal of the risen Christ is central – yet it is neither here nor there; it is a human form, but rendered in blurry incorporeal light tones; emerging from the clay rather than superimposed on it. I did not see it for some minutes. Then a sudden shock as I see the five wounds and recognize them for what they are – slits with proud edges of swollen bloody flesh. Time and place disappear. The host lives here.
The Humla Project
The mustard seed… though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.
… make the world a better place, even if it is in one small part of the world — Humla
Lokshara: (a Shining Stars teenager)
It was during my two months in Kathmandu, Nepal, I was there under the auspices of Global Volunteer Network, that I got to know the children of Shining Stars Children’s Home. The home has been in existence for more than ten years providing care to a cohort of children who are now aged 11 years to 18 years. The majority of these children call Humla, Nepal their home and, as they complete their studies and leave Shining Stars (which is slated for closure), they expect to return to Humla and their families of origin.
Brief Overview of Humla
78.2% of Humla residents are Hindu and 20.2% Buddhist
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and within Nepal’s 75 districts Humla lies 73rd in the poverty rankings.
The literacy rate in Humla is estimated at 63% (43% for women). But in a survey of 31 villages in South Humla the literacy rate was found to be 30%
73% of households can make a (subsistence) living for only three months of the year.
Source: Mission East – Values in Action.http://www.miseast.org/en/nepal/empowering-vulnerable-women-humla-and-mugu-districts-midwestern-nepal
During my close daily contacts with the children it became clear to me that issues connected with their imminent return to Humla were a source of anxiety for them. They talked emotionally about Humla and the problems which they saw as insurmountable. They wondered how they would fit in, how they could help their families.
Thus was born ‘the Humla Project’.
The children and I talked about how if you give a set of actions a name, a title, a description, it becomes real, it becomes actionable.
It also becomes something you need to feed with cash. Global Volunteer network have donated the amount that was my program fee to the project, also the program fee of Nicola, a medical student who I overlapped with. I’m asking you, reader, to also consider donating money to the project. Please read what follows and then consider donating what you can afford. If you can afford only a little that’s OK. If you can afford a lot. That’s also OK. This link will take you to the donation site which is deemed safe, secure, and simple. I’ve made a donation just to test it out. It didn’t like my UK phone number but eventually accepted my donation sans my phone number. Here is the link:
Here is Humla in the children’s own words:
Luna: It is in the western part of Nepal…the remote part of Nepal… no adequate food, no clothes, no medicine, not enough water to drink. However, it is very special to me because it is my birthplace. It is a place of natural beauty – fast-flowing falls, rocky Himalayas, deep blue rivers with freezing water.
Mahesh: The region still exists as it did in ancient periods. Infertile land makes the production of crops difficult, so people have to go south to India or north to China for their earnings.
Hari: Humla is a backward and remote place….no health facilities or proper education, no transportation or clean drinking water. It is a very beautiful place.
Lokshara: I came to Shining Stars Children’s Home ten years ago. Conditions (in Humla) were bad. No clothes, no food, no books, no notebooks, or pens. In Humla there are lots of apples but there is no place to sell them at a good price. There is no transportation. It takes one month to come (to Kathmandu) on foot. Air travel is too expensive for the people of Humla. They are too poor. There is no way of earning money. The few crops are used for their food. Some people who have sheep go to Tibet to sell the wool. They earn very little money. When they buy new clothes they used them for 10 years or more. People from poor families don’t wear clothes until they reach the age of five to six years. Many people die from diarrhoea because there are no doctors and nurses.
Moon: A place completely blind and strange; a most shaded and backwards region of Nepal; a primitive lifestyle; indeed a dark, hidden and most poor place where people die of hunger. A child is born, unknowingly, in frozen mid winter. His mother dies giving birth to him due to improper health care. In childhood he learns how to take care of goats and cows instead of learning ABCD. He learns to hunt birds instead of knowledge. He is given a spade instead of a pen. He sees dark instead of light. He wants to rise up but society pulls him down, down and down. What can he do then? The only thing he can do is cry.
Ajaya: I am not from Humla but I support all my brothers and sisters whom I grew up with in children’s homes. In Humla there are no proper facilities for transportation, communication, electricity, education, etc.
Sunita: Humla is a remote part of my country Nepal. All the people are uneducated. There is lack of health facilities, lack of food, clothes, etc. Some people of Humla eat food only once a day.
Mandir: Humla is my birthplace. It is located on the Himalayan side of western Nepal. It is one of the most remote districts in Nepal. It is a naturally beautiful place – snow covered mountains, and rocky hills. The environment is clean and fresh. Humla makes me proud of myself. But my home town consists of barren, rocky land about 4,000 metres above sea level. Nothing grows there except some potatoes and millet. The government of Nepal provides food but it is not sufficient for the whole year. People are hungry all the time. In the winter frozen snow covers the ground five feet deep. In winter people just stay at home. Some people have no clothes. People need to walk days to reach health care. Minor diseases cause untimely death. Sheep and yak are the only means of transportation and they are not reliable for carrying people.
Hira: Humla is my birthplace. It lies in the mid-western part of Nepal. There are no proper health facilities. Sick people have to be carried to hospital. Sometimes eight days. If they do not get there on time they may die
Ashok: I am from Lumjung (not Humla). The main problems of Humla district are poverty and illiteracy. Due to this there are health problems and some people don’t eat twice a day.
Shanta: Humla is a remote and underdeveloped part of the world. If someone becomes sick there they have to walk three to four days to reach a health post. To get water from a tank they have to walk three to four hours.
Rajendra. When I remember my (early) childhood in Humla I remember frozen hands. My work was to graze the yaks and sheep. The white snow-covered mountains always share their calm and innocent smile and at the foot of the Humla Kamali River there are winds of sorrow. At the altitude of 3000-4000 metres families are struggling day and night for their life. My family barely manage two meals a day. They are poor shepherds. The weather is cold and they don’t have food and shelter. It is difficult to imagine and my eyes can’t control the tears.
Khem: Humla is a rural place. The lifestyle in each district is very very poor and people live in miserable conditions.
They talk about their families
Luna: I have four younger sisters. They are studying these days. My parents just do the household activities. Other than that there are no jobs for income generating among Humla people. For my family I must make their lives better and then help the world, as they are my first and foremost responsibility.
Hari: My parents are too old and they cannot work. They have a big dream about me to become a good citizen and big person one day.
Moon: After a year this children’s home will not support me any more. My family can’t either. They have nothing at all.
Sunita: I have two big brothers, two younger brothers, three older sisters and my dad and mom. My older brothers and sisters are married. My father just stays at home because he is too old and can’t work. My mother works in the field. My family is very poor. When I was five years old, my parents sent me to work in my sister’s house as a servant. You wouldn’t believe that a five-year-old child could work, but I really could do any type of work. I cooked the food and I cared for my sister’s children. I didn’t go to school. I would go sometimes but only for four to five days a month. So I was really weak in my studies. When I was six years old, my father brought me to Kathmandu to take care of my older sister’s children. When we reached Kathmandu my older sister had already gone home, but we didn’t know that. So my father decided to place me in a children’s home. At that time, I was really sad and cursed my parents. But now I understand why they did it.
Mandir: I have in my family six members: two brothers, two sisters, and mother and father. My family is too poor. My father is a farmer. My mother is too old. She can’t walk.
Hira: I grew up in a poor family. I don’t like this world. It is very greedy and nobody helps Humla.
Shanta: I have six members in my family, father, mother, two sisters and two brothers. In a remote area like Humla, people are married at the age of 14 or 15 – before their menstruation. My father is a farmer. My mother is a housewife. My two brothers have already married at the age of 15. Now, one of my brothers has two children and the other has three children. They are uneducated and they don’t have enough money to study because my family cannot afford it. They have no money to send their children to school so they have to marry their children early. I’m the youngest of my family. I am a very lucky person because if I was there (in Humla) my parents would have already married me off, but now I’m here so I have to work hard and do my best for the future. My wish is to make my parents happy and show them the amazing talents I have. I will never give up my studies to make my future bright. It has been a very long time since I came from Humla. I miss my birthplace very much and I love my parents so much. One would understand now much I love them.
Rajendra: I left my homelands due to poverty and political conditions. I have old parents and a sister. My parents live a life or death existence, always struggling to survive, also my sister. They don’t know what the world is and what the world’s people do due to illiteracy. They barely manage two meals a day. They are poor shepherds. They take the sheep into the high Himalayas to carry the herbs. They spend most of their lives in the jungle.
Ashok: I wish for my Humla brothers’ and sisters’ progress. Their happiness is my happiness and their sorrow is my sorrow which has been shared since six years ago. I would like to see their villages develop and prosper. Although I am alone because I have no family, I never feel alone because of them. I will never part from them. I would like to give my hand to make their villages paradise.
Khem: It has always been a dream of my mother and father for me to become a great, successful person in my life and serve my family, village and the districts of Humla.
They talk about culture and customs
Mahesh: Humla is rich in natural beauty, and religious culture.
Hari: The people of Humla live in harmony. They are kind-hearted and they respect each other and they always respect the soul.
Moon: Early marriage – at the age of 11 to 15 years – is common. This happens because of poverty, lack of knowledge, and lack of awareness.
Sunita: The main occupation is agriculture. Most people don’t work. There is a child marriage system. Children get married at age 14 or 15.
Mandir: People are still in traditional belief, norms, culture. In terms of studying, people look at sheep, cows and goats.
Hira: In Humla people get married early. They get married at an early age because they don’t have education.
Shanta: The government provides all kinds of facilities in developed places but does not provide facilities in remote areas. Remote is always remote and developed places are always developing. That is how our country is running. The people are not educated. They uphold traditional beliefs and ideas. The people think everyone should marry early. If they marry early then God will be happy. This unbearable way of thinking makes their life poor. They give opportunities to sons but not to their daughters because they believe that one day daughters must leave home and be looked after by a man. Girls get married very young and die around the age of 35 to 45.
Rajendra: The people are still practising the culture and lifestyle from centuries ago such as early marriage, witch doctors, and girls having menstruation must stay in a cowshed for up to seven days etc.
I, and another volunteer, Malia, met with the children as a group. They shared their stories with us. They spoke about their hopes and fears and anxieties attendant upon their imminent discharge from Shining Stars. They also spoke about their ambitions and the ways in which they hoped they might help their families.
Mahesh: I am now studying mass communication. I have made two short movies. Although I haven’t had many opportunities my heart always pushes me to act in front of cameras. I want higher education in this field. After the completion of my studies I hope to work with the Humla Project (in the side) related to media and film. I could broadcast the problems of Humla from media, radio, film, drama, etc.
Luna: I’m in grade 10. This is my last year and then I will be going to college this coming August. I plan to study sociology. I want to be a social worker. I want to travel to different parts of Humla and make people aware about their health so it would extend longevity of the lives in Humla.
Hari: I am 15 years old and in grade nine. I want to be a health assistant (HA). I want to study HA in college. I will join the Humla Project, go to my birthplace and help poor people, disabled people, children, with health matters. I want to build some public toilets in the community, to give health awareness and discourage child marriage, also to give health awareness about hand-washing before eating and after toilet.
Lokshara: Once I leave this home (Shining Stars) I am unsure what I should do. I don’t have money to be a good nurse. I have a BIG dream to become a nurse and establish a hospital in Humla to look after my villagers and my family. In my heart, I want to help others and make their body healthy. Also, I want to provide education about health and how good health can make a person happy. The purpose of my life is to make the world a better place, even if it is in one small part of the world, Humla.
Moon: We are planning to start the Humla Project whose motive is to make each individual of Humla happy. We would make them self-reliant. We would like volunteers such as doctors, engineers, nurses, health administrators and agricultural specialists to help in their specialist areas. Basic needs should be met, children should enjoy their rights, women be empowered.
I know life is precious. I respect life not because it provides entertainment but because it provides us a chance to be heroes. I think we are born to do great things like Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa or Mahatma Ghandi, and not to burn ourselves like a rubbish heap. I know that even water is born to give life to other living things and to provide a habitat for us.
I am a 17-year-old boy studying science, especially physics, because I want to be a mechanical engineer. I am talented, a good student and uphold a high position in college with excellent marks. My friends and teachers feel proud of me. I have a deep interest in physics and maths. I want to be an engineer because I could help the development of Humla.
Sunita: I want to be a staff nurse. This is the dream of my parents, villagers and mine. When I become a staff nurse, I would go to my own village in Humla and I spread knowledge about health and health care. I want to see people wearing warm clothes in winter and good clothes in other seasons. I want to see food in their mouths. They should be educated and healthy. I love to dance also. I want to open dance classes in my village.
Mandir: I got the chance to become educated. But I miss my poor family too much. I am getting knowledge. I am in grade ten now. My family hopes for big things from me. So I have to do something now for them. I am studying hard now. I know that I have to provide something for my village. If I am successful I would be able to make my parents happy. With that said, I have a big dream. I want to be a doctor in the future. In order to be a doctor in the context of our country, Nepal, financial support should be strong. I know my family can’t support me. I need financial support from other people.
Hira: I am thinking that I can open one small hotel in Humla, but don’t have any money to establish it. I am poor and grew up in a poor family. I’d like to establish a hotel near my home.
Ashok: Nowadays I am studying science subjects. After the completion of my studies I hope to work in Humla in agriculture. I’m not from Humla but I understand that there are lots of orchard farms which are not being utilized. I would look after other agricultural sectors too.
Shanta: I am in grade nine at school. I am 14 years of age. When I have finished my school levels, my purpose is to be a nurse. The main purpose of being a nurse will be to help the people and give knowledge to all people. If I became a nurse I would want to develop my birthplace by making people educated, giving awareness programs to people, helping them in their difficulties and treating them well.
Rajendra: Although Humla is backward, there are lots of possibilities to create self-reliance. There are possibilities of apple-farming, collection of herbs and group rearing of yak and sheep, development of tourism. With the fundamental philosophy to provide self-reliance and self-sufficiency, we are thinking about the Humla Project. We know that, with educating oneself one cannot educate others. If a candle wants to see itself it has to glow to provide light to the other. Humla is socio-economically disadvantaged. There are lots of things to do in health and sanitation education, as well as community maintenance and meeting basic needs. We are planning to learn from groups in different fields of development. We are aiming to provide ourselves with skills, human resources, agricultural specialists, nurses, doctors, engineers, social workers, teachers, health administrators to help us think of solutions and find the particular solution and always pay attention to sustainable development in each field. We want to take the knowledge and skills back to Humla and create a haven of peace and prosperity.
Khem: I am 15 years old. I would actively involve the native people in our projects so local people can be involved. We can help the people of Humla to uplift their living conditions. I would like to develop tourism in Humla. I hope to study tourism in college.
Please empower these young people to go home and effect change in their communities. Any donation – however small — a mustard seed – when matched with the energy, commitment and loving intention of these youngsters, will grow a thousand fold. Please help. Please donate.
I first wrote about my volunteer experience in March 2014, three months after returning from a two-month long placement at the Shining Stars Children’s Home. The home, located in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, is operated administratively by Volunteer Services Nepal (VSN). My placement there was brokered by Global Volunteer Network (GVN), a New Zealand based charitable organization,
To place this post in context, I have to tell you that when I wrote the initial post, I was feeling rather like a casualty of a war.
On returning home, I was invited, as are all volunteers, to provide feedback to GVN. I did so, honestly and in good faith. The ensuing correspondence stretched out over three frustrating months. My feedback was not welcomed — I received the whistle blower’s reward. My concerns, about deficits in the children’s nutrition, health care and discharge planning, were met with stony silence, counter-arguments or disingenuous assurances that the ‘serious allegations’ I had made would be dealt with at some time in an indeterminate future. Questions and criticisms regarding lack of transparency around financial arrangements were met with defensiveness, denial and obfuscation. I picked up my pen.
This month (February 2015), after a total of 15 months of frustration and anger, I was contacted by Colin Salisbury of Global Volunteer Network with an offer to start a new dialogue. He wanted me to modify my March 2014 blog. The content — and this I will tell those of you who missed reading it (it’s now gone) — was excoriating. If I had been Colin or any of the staff mentioned I would have wanted the blog to disappear. Colin explained to me that the blog had, in fact, impacted on the reputation of GVN and affected volunteer recruitment and donations.
I and another volunteer, who had also been treated high-handedly when she voiced concerns and criticisms similar to mine, were offered an apology by Colin and an acknowledgement that our concerns and criticisms had been valid. By way of expiation he agreed to donate a substantial sum of money directly to the children at the home. This money, identified principally for their further education, will go directly to the educational institutions. In addition, Colin has also agreed to make funding arrangements – particularly the use to which the Volunteer Program Fee is put – transparent and easy for GVN site visitors to understand.
War is always bad but it is sometimes necessary. The experience of having my words fall on stony ground was frustrating. But worse was being a witness to a social wrong and feeling powerless to do anything about it. I used my pen like a weapon. It’s all I could do. I feel sad that I needed to be heavy handed. War is not fun. I feel bad for the hurt feelings of GVN staff, and the hurt feelings of staff at their partner organization in Nepal. I wish it could have been different but war is sometimes necessary. Colin Salisbury has said that he wants to move forward. I also want to move forward. The war between us is ended and the issues, more or less, resolved.
I bought hiking boots today in an expensive Castle Douglas shoe store.
Meinl, Made in Germany, £115. Beautiful green leather and seriously elegant, not at all like the hiking boots that resemble moon landing craft.
So I decided to give them their first airing. A five minute walk down to the harbour and five minutes back. On return home I see the heels beginning to separate from the uppers amidst a miasma of black powder. The rubber had perished. This was my first go at breaking in boots intended for Santiago de Compostela in 2015.
Is this An Omen? Am I meant to do the 500 Mile Pilgrimage in Bare Feet?
I don’t use maps. Left, right, straight ahead, are confusing terms — too dependent on the direction you are facing or how you hold the map. And, anyway, I typically confuse left and right, one spin, from 12 o’clock to three o’clock and for me, the map has become a tangle of misleading lines. I read somewhere that London cab drivers’ brains show unusual development in the part responsible for topographical orientation. That part, in my brain, has a hole. I get lost when I use maps.
My strategy in a unfamiliar place is to exit the door of my sleeping place, circumnavigate the building, taking in the sights, or sites, street names, orienting myself to ‘home’, looking back at the front door, memorising buildings, landmarks. I look for spires or cranes or high rises. I look at door colours, memorials, monuments. I allow myself to veer from the circle only for short distances at first – into interesting side streets with small busy restaurants, those with tired, or unfashionable décor — where the ‘real people’ eat. I carry a phrase book, and a note book. My sleeping place’s name and address is in the note book. If I become disoriented I ask for directions, looking suitable helpless – (it is no act) point to the address in my notebook– and someone will point me in the approximate direction. I like when the sun is out. I understand north. If the finger points east. I bear east. I make detours around areas heavily populated by camera toting visitors. I spend five minutes or so in any church with an open door.
Tom, the pleasant, patient cybervoiced presence on my Sat Nav looks after me when I drive. He tells me three times which exit to take at the roundabout. ‘Go right at the roundabout – third exit. Third exit. Exit the roundabout’. I talk back to him. Thank you, Tom. OK. OK. I heard you. Turn around when it is safe to do so. (Must’a took the wrong exit at the roundabout).
Been there. Done that. Got the tee shirt. One woman, who shall be nameless, told me she didn’t like Scotland. Her whole experience of Scotland was a single visit to Glasgow. I’m happy to confess I still don’t know Scotland. I’m becoming familiar with a one area, SW Scotland, but even then, each time I take the Dee walk I encounter a place I do not know. A bird I’ve never noticed before. An abundance of rose hips, and fatter than I’ve ever seen. The old scuttled boat has lost yet more blue paint.
One night, tenting north of Lytton, British Columbia, Canada, I crawled out of the tent in the middle of the night. Shivering. The temperature had dropped. I squatted to pee, look up and saw for the first time in my life, Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Stars as big as blinding suns. In my astonishment I forgot how cold I was. There is no tee shirt for that. Another night, tenting by the Nimpkish River, North Vancouver Island, I woke up sopping wet, the ground sheet, the sleeping bag, and me. I found out that night the Nimpkish is a tidal river and that breaking camp in the middle of night, dripping with water, is another experience for which there is no tee shirt, instruction book or map.
Recently I bought a smart phone with a camera. But I’ll continue to leave photography to the professionals and map reading for those whose brains are adapted to the exercise. I comfort myself with the wonderful idea that the map is never the territory and no photograph can capture this experience. And this: recently in Budapest I left my sister and her man squabbling over a map and the route back to our hotel. I’ll use my method, I told them. I asked just one person. He pointed. I arrived at the hotel a full 15 minutes before them. I deserve a tee shirt for that one.