Love of Learning

Delivering Books to the Ani School in Tsarang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

Delivering Books to the Ani School in Tsarang, Upper Mustang, Nepal

If there’s one thing I hope to accomplish in life that’s lasting, it would be to teach my children (and any I am lucky to know) a love of learning. We have been fortunate to witness up-close our children’s exploration of the world through homeschooling, our first few years, and now Montessori, which allows children to explore their interests fully.

Here’s a little film made a year ago, by our 7 & 5 year-olds for their science fair. Hands-on learning with a passion for fun. Can you guess what the mystery animal is?

The Rag Pickers of Kathmandu

Sometimes we just have to make the best of hard times. There’s always the hope of finding a way through darkness toward a place that moves us beyond where we started in the first place. Excruciating pain in my abdomen for a long night told me I needed to go to the hospital. We had just arrived in Kathmandu and were hours away from flying into the mountains for a 3-week archaeological/filming expedition. A CAT scan revealed an inflamed appendix that was ready to burst. Undergoing an emergency appendectomy through open surgery in a Kathmandu hospital was the only option. It meant I wouldn’t be able to join the expedition, and our 2 small children would have to stay with me while I recovered in Kathmandu — an opportunity lost for 2 eager young archaeologists and a filmmaker poised to shoot unique cave research as it unfolded. We would miss our many friends in Upper Mustang, whom we’ve grown fond of after 7 trips to the region as a family. What seemed a loss, at the time, became an opportunity in the end.

Sharing a movie on the flight to Kathmandu

As time slowly healed our hearts and rest mended my swollen abdomen (as we waited for the expedition members to return to Kathmandu), we found a compelling story to tell with a little Go-Pro POV camera in the hands of an 8-year-old. Forays by rickshaw into the streets of Kathmandu brought daily lessons on the gut-wrenching lifestyle of a low caste of people who play one of the most vital roles in reducing pollution in Nepal and in particular in the Kathmandu Valley. They’re called “rag pickers” and the rags they pick from the sludge of human waste, including sewage, are indeed resources plucked from the mire of human consumption. These so-called “rags” are mainly plastics: ramen noodle packets, biscuit packets, plastic shopping bags, plastic beverage bottles, and all forms of hard plastics.

There are about 300 rag pickers engaged in waste recovery in the various urban centers of Kathmandu, alone. Most are villagers displaced by the Maoist regime, having moved from rural mountainous regions to Kathmandu. Yet, rag picking is a safety-net for anyone who finds themselves amongst the poorest of the poor, guaranteed employment for the self-starter willing to pick through the rank and toxic garbage of Kathmandu’s residents. Touching other people’s dirty trash is close to taboo in Nepal, hence rag pickers are scorned and mistreated. They suffer high risk of health complications and nearly half are women and children. The majority are illiterate.

This film short is a story for both kids and adults, told from the point of view of 2 children on a journey, seeking solutions to the chaos of waste management across our planet.

Life Lessons from the Village

Living Simply in the Himalaya

Voluntary simplicity, back-to-basics, modern homesteading, opting out, just plain living: these are the terms given to a modern movement toward more sustainable living practices. The tenets are based on old values before the day of single-use throw-away items and readily available running water, electricity, home heat, packaged food, and gas at the pump. The practices are from the days when people had no choice but to grow their own food and harness the resources around them: collecting water, power and heat from the sun, food from the soil, products like eggs and honey from the critters we cared for. In this country, we look back toward our great grandparents’ age to re-learn the old less-harmful ways of living. But in many cultures around the planet, those ways are still practiced out of necessity and due to remoteness from a metropolitan center.

Through the eyes of a 3-year-old

We first took our children to Nepal when they were ages 3 and 18 months. This first trip, for us, was seminal in its impact upon their lives. Our daily rhythms were occupied by the business of living, free of phones, cars, computers, and central heating. Through our friends, the Sherpa community of Kunde, our children learned what it meant to not have running water in our home, instant food cooked over a stove, or delivery by car to a village 10 miles away. We made our own food from scratch and only ate the produce that was stored over winter past the harvest season: potatoes.

Daddy and Baby, 15,000 Ft

It was a very special time for us and formative for one 3-year-old mind. This little film tries to capture that moment, which still informs us on how we hope to live the rest of our lives:

High Mountains, Pure Water

Sample Nepal Village Zero Waste Plan

(A work in progress)

1)    Locate village waste sites. Are they trash pits dug out for burning? Are they in a windy spot? If so, build a fence around them so rara (ramen) and biscuit packets don’t blow away. Do cows frequent the site and forage? If so, a fence will stop this. Cows die from ingested plastics, and the plastic can’t be a positive influence on the milk the cows produce.

2)    Are there incinerators for burning trash in the village? Review which plastics are being burned and at what temperature.

3)    At the trash pits (and also in a few volunteer homes) separate out the resources from the trash: aluminum, glass, compostables like paper, cardboard and food scraps.

4)    Find a nearby source that will buy the aluminum and a local willing to carry it out.

5)    Find a nearby source that will buy or recycle glass and a local or foreign NGO willing to carry it out. Often there are porters willing to carry for a small fee or trucks heading downvalley that are empty.

6)    Conduct awareness camps with locals to re-assess why compostables like paper, cardboard, and organics like food scraps are ending up in the trash pits. Methane gas from organic waste in landfills is a large contributor to greenhouse gas worldwide. This organic waste should be seen as a resource for compost piles. Remind locals that tea bags can be composted. Eggshells can be composted. If locals are going into the forests to collect leaves (carbon) for compost, they should be saving their paper and cardboard which has the same affect on compost piles if shredded into smaller pieces. Teaching locals to keep the leaves beneath the trees to prevent erosion will take time, but showing them that the paper and food scraps can take their place could go a long way in reducing the amount of leaves being taken from the already denuded environment.

7)    Toxic waste drop-off site: designate a local place (either one right at the pit or at a community center) where people can drop off their toxic waste – batteries, lead acid car batteries, CFL light bulbs. Find a local conservation group that will transport them to a safe disposal site.

8)    Cut down on single use items. If there are many plastic water bottles in the trash pits, locals can look into getting a potable water filter donated to the community. Informed trekkers will bring their own water bottles to be re-filled with safe drinking water. Signs in the village indicating where the safe potable water can be purchased will help reduce plastic water bottle waste.  The village or individual lodges that purchase the water filters will get a return on their investment.

9) Create goals for the future: plastic bag bans in your village, public potable water station.

Thanks to Clif Bar, we’ve been able to take some of these steps in interested villages in Solukhumbu and Mustang. The goal is to get the plastic and toxic waste out of the critical high mountain watersheds. Our steps may be small, but with continued follow-through they will have a lasting impact on Nepal’s increasingly threatened, garbage-choked watersheds.

Plastic is Forever

Found in 5 Minutes on Our Beach

Every Color, Every Shape: Its All There in the Ocean

Our material culture washes up every day upon our beaches: Thousands of tiny particles of weathered plastic bits mixed with large snarls of monofilament trapping bottle caps, fireworks parts and earplugs. To look at a list of what’s washed ashore on a single beach during one high tide is to step through a day-in-the-life of the average American citizen and take note of the hundreds of plastic items we use: coffee cups and lids, plastic stirrers, plastic straws, clamshell food containers, plastic pens, a toothbrush, hairbrush, mascara applicator, shampoo bottle, car door handle, paintbrush, cell phone holder, car bumper, plastic shopping bags, dog toy, tennis balls, juice pouches, paint can spray top, organic produce stickers, plant pots, shovel handle, flip flops, sunglasses, lip balm applicator, baseball cap visor, packing peanuts, ziplock bag, water bottles, refrigerator meats drawer, plastic champagne cork, toothpaste cap, and light switch cover. Everything on this list has washed up on a beach in Puget Sound for us to document.

Plastic is Forever is the name of our project, and it’s the brainchild of 5 children who can no longer play innocently on a beach, oblivious to the myriad plastics under foot. Ages 4-7, and for over a year now, the kids have masterminded their own inventories, marine plastics art exhibits, environmental festival projects, science fair displays, watershed educational booths, public library displays, and Earth Day exhibitions. They’ve even made a short film. Please watch their work and spread the news: We’re using way too much plastic and it just won’t seem to ever go away.